The common figs that most people grow don’t require pollination. But Smyrna types, including California’s Calimyrna figs, and San Pedro varieties, will set fruit only when pollinated by very tiny female wasps from Asia Minor, Blastophaga psenes, that live inside fruits of pollen-bearing wild figs called Capri figs, or caprifigs. “Capri” refers to goat, because these inedible fruits were often fed to livestock. The process of fertilising figs with wasps is called caprification.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Blastophaga wasp-infested caprifigs
- Brown paper bags
- Staple gun
Set up a comfortable, indoor or shaded outdoor work area for organising and assembling caprification bags. Make sure that prepared bags will be shaded and cool, if you’ll be working all day to distribute bags throughout your orchard.
Open one paper bag for each fig tree you’ll be fertilising. Place at least one caprifig containing larval Blastophaga psenes wasps inside each bag, to anchor it. Place each opened paper bag on the ground or work bench.
Distribute among the paper bags the remaining wasp-laden caprifigs, which contain the male pollen that will fertilise the figs as well as the female wasp that will do the pollinating. Do not place more three or four pollen-bearing caprifigs in each paper bag.
Staple one open brown paper bag to a large lower limb of each fig tree to be pollinated, making sure that the bag will remain open even on breezy days. Each female fig wasp will emerge from caprifigs and enter an inside-out flower of the fig tree, and in the process distribute pollen to female flowers.
Tips and warnings
- Common fig varieties develop parthenocarpically, or without pollination, and are by far the most prevalent fig grown in family orchards.
- The fig fruit is unique--an inverted flower, with both female and male flower parts enclosed inside stem tissue that develops into fleshy fruit.
- To find wasp-infested ripe caprifigs to pollinate your Smyrna or San Pedro-type figs, contact ag advisers in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where Calimyrna figs are grown and pollinated. Caprifigs are also naturalised throughout Southern California.
- Placing too many wasp-rich caprifigs in each bag can cause overpollination, or too many seed-bearing drupelets, that will cause figs to burst, ruining them.
- If you decide to grow your own caprifig tree as a Blastophaga wasp nursery, do not grow it anywhere near the trees the wasps will be pollinating, again, to avoid overpollination.
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