Figs are related to the mulberry plant family and are among the oldest cultivated fruits, dating back to biblical times. The fruit is native to Egypt and was introduced into the western hemisphere by Spaniards in the 16th century. Figs are highly perishable fruits and are consumed both in fresh and dried form. Fig trees have specific growth habits and bloom with specialised forms of blossoms.
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The blossoms of the fig tree are unique in the manner by which they help to create the fruit itself. The inverted fig flowers containing the male and female flower parts are covered with stem tissue to form the fruit. This entire specialised structure is referred to as syconium. When the fruit is mature, it contains the remaining portions of the original flower structures. The seeds inside the fruit are actually unfertilised ovaries that did not develop.
Fig trees have a potential height of up to 50 feet, but usually do not grow taller than 10 to 30 feet. The muscular, twisting branches are wide-spreading, and the wood is generally weak. Fig tree wood is highly prone to decay and trunks display large tumour-like growths where branches are shed or cut. The wood excretes a milky sap that irritates the skin. Trees that are frequently damaged by frost grow in the form of multi-trunked, large shrubs.
Foliage and Crop
The deciduous foliage measures up to 1 foot long, and is bright green in colour. The alternate leaves are deeply lobed with hairy uppersides and less hairy undersides. Fig trees produce two fruit harvests per year. The spring crop, or breba, is produced on last season's growth and the second main crop is produced during fall on new growth. The fruit on trees grown in colder regions is frequently damaged by spring frosts.
Select an area of full sun and a spot protected from very cold winds for growing figs. The trees adapt well to a range of soil types including moderately dry and infertile. The recommended pH is 6. Amend very sandy soils with organic matter, prior to planting, and increase pH with lime in acidic soils. The addition of organic matter increases moisture retention in soil. Fig trees grow equally well in containers.
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