Figs, Figs, Figs! People love figs! Every time I put up an auction on eBay the figs are the first to go. When we decided to propagate them, we had no idea they were such a popular fruit and tree. But it makes sense, have you ever seen fresh figs at the market?? Dried, sure. But fresh? They don’t keep, so the only way to have one, is to grow your very own tree.
Figs grow best in a dryer warm-temperate climate, similar to the Mediterranean. If there is rain while the tree is fruiting, the fruit may split and therefore rot. But if you have the right environment, figs will grow to be anywhere from 10 to 50 feet tall (averaging around 30 feet). The leaves are large, bright green and have 3-5 lobes. The bark is a whitish-gray color. The branches spread wider then the tree is tall, but break easily. Often older fig trees will have large nodes from where branches have fallen off. The fig in our front yard (we are located in Zone 9) is humongous and during fruiting season we are hard pressed to pick them all.
When I was young I would climb the fig in our yard and read. Being a curious child, I would climb around and pick leaves and unripe fruit to look at the inside.This is how I discovered the sap of a fig tree is poisonous. Nothing dangerous mind you, but it contains a milky white latex which is irritating to the skin. And if you happen to get some in your mouth if makes your tongue go numb.
The flowers are tiny and located inside of a syconium, an enlarged, fleshy, hollow receptacle with multiple ovaries on the inside surface. Ficus Carica “Black Mission” figs are solely female and need no pollination to bear fruit. The only other method of pollination for this inverted flower, is a tiny “fig wasp”. This wasp and figs have had a symbiotic relationship for going on 80 million years. When the fruit is ripe it will be a muddled brown color with bright redish-pink seeds inside. The distinct nutty taste often associated with figs is only present if the seeds were pollinated. It is important to note, figs will not bear fruit unless in full sun the majority of the day. It is also important to note, the trees canopy will shade out anything growing beneath. Our fig is next to our garden, and every year must be severely cut back to allow sun to our vegetable beds. In addition, the root mass is extremely dense. The veggie bed closest to our fig has been forfeited for the sake of the fruit.
Although this tree takes up a massive amount of space when given the chance, and makes a mess when the leaves drop each winter, the delicious, abundant and beautiful fruit is well worth it. Some days I look out the window and think of all the other things I could do with the space taken up by our fig, yet year after year it remains standing. I believe it’s well worth the sacrifice.