Fantastic Figs

Easy-to-grow figs bring sweet Mediterranean flavors to your kitchen.

| November/December 2017

While the forbidden fruit Eve fed Adam wasn’t an apple, the experience did open their eyes to “fig leaf fashion.” According to Scripture, God took notice of their new outfits right away, and we’ve been fig-leafing delicate conversations ever since.

The common fig (Ficus carica) shares a genus with nearly a thousand other figs, including Banyan trees, Sycamore figs, Strangler vines, and even the potted Ficus trees so often neglected in office foyers. Only the common fig grows reliably in temperate regions, thriving well outside its comfort zone (with a little winter help).

The genus Ficus belongs in the family Moraceae, along with 37 other genera. Other family members include breadfruit, Osage oranges, and mulberries.

Figs are a botanical oddity, in that the figs aren’t fruit — not really. They’re hollow fleshy stems called synconiums, containing tiny flowers, and later, fruit flesh inside. Even stranger, wild figs and some cultivated varieties, called ‘Smyrna’ figs, need to be pollinated by tiny fig wasps with pollen from male “caprifigs.” Today, ‘Smyrna’ fig growers in the Middle East and California hang braids of inedible caprifig fruits in their orchards at pollinating time. Contrary to certain sensational online articles, ripe figs do not contain dead wasps.

Fortunately for the rest of us, there’s a third type of fig, the common fig, that doesn’t need caprifigs, wasps, or even pollination at all to set fruit. Even better, there are plenty of varieties to choose from. Some estimates name up to 600 varieties of common fig, although likely there are more than a few varieties with multiple names out there.

Confused yet? It gets worse. One of the most common varieties, the ‘Brown Turkey,’ isn’t even a variety at all, more like a description. There are actually several different ‘Brown Turkey’ figs out there, because the name really just means a brown fig that came from Turkey.

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