Figuring out the fig leaf doesn’t have to be difficult. The fig tree is native to western Asia and has been grown in northern Europe since the 15th century. Since then, unnamed cultivars of the fig tree have multiplied by the thousands, which makes specific identification seem impossible. However, a basic familiarity of leaf types combined with knowledge of colour, texture and geographic location makes the identification of various fig leaves seem less overwhelming.
Fig tree types
The West Australian Nut and Tree Crop Association reports the widely accepted categories of five main fig types including the primitive type known as caprifig, the producing types known as Calimyrna and Smyrna, the common fig type grown as non-pollinated commercial crops and the "San Pedro" figs that feature similar characteristics of the two Smyrna types.
Palmate -- or hand-like leaf shapes -- are typical to the fig tree. Varieties for the fig leaf range from 2.5 to 17.5 cm (1 to 7-inch) lobes. The number of “lobes” on a fig leaf (imagine fingers extending from a hand) distinguishes each type.
In many variations, the leaf itself is the lobe and appears as a single shape (imagine the "heart" or "spade" from a deck of cards). Detailed features of fig leaves vary greatly within each variety.
The Ischia and Constantine fig leaves are similarly shaped, featuring three definite lobes. The bright green leaf resembles an elongated "club" from a deck of cards. Grown in Florida and California, these fig types require full sun to thrive.
The leaf of the Hamma fig is shaped more like a heart with the stem, creating a cleavage where it’s attached at its base.
The Alma fig is a caprifig, meaning it’s a primitive type. Five oblong-shaped lobes distinguish its leaves, and the Alma fig typically grows closer to tropical areas as it cannot tolerate frost.
Mission and San Piero fig leaves also support five lobes, but the edges are more jagged in appearance.
The Calimyrna fig varieties feature leaves with five lobes. The centre lobe is the longest, ranging from 5 to 7.5 cm (2 to 3 inches) depending on the maturity of the tree.
The Brunswick, or "brown turkey" fig leaf is perhaps the easiest to identify, as it features seven narrow 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4-inch) lobes. Two smaller lobes at the base of the leaf are considerably shorter than the others. Brown turkey figs do not tolerate freezing conditions, but are still able to recover after a damaging freeze.
Features and geographic significance
Most fig leaves are a vivid deep green with a rough hairy surface texture and soft fuzzy underside. Specific geographic locations and a general understanding of palmate-shaped fig leaves make identifying them a little less confusing, and even fun for the avid fan of the historical fig.
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