From the book
Fruits of Warm Climates
by Julia F. Morton
Harvesting and Yield
Pests and Diseases
While the ancient history of the fig centers around the
Mediterranean region, and it is most commonly cultivated in
mild-temperate climates, it nevertheless has its place in tropical and
subtropical horticulture. Botanically identified as Ficus carica
L. (family Moraceae), it is unique in a genus embracing perhaps over
1,000 species, mostly giant "rubber trees", and mostly tropical. It is
almost universally known simply as fig, common fig, or edible fig. The
name is very similar in French (figue), German (feige), Italian and
Portuguese (figo). In Spanish it is higo or brevo. Haitians give it the
name, figue France, to distinguish it from the small, dried bananas
fig is a tree of small dimensions, 10 to 30 ft (3-9 m) high, with
numerous spreading branches and a trunk rarely more than 7 in (17.5 cm)
in diameter. It contains copious milky latex. The root system is
typically shallow and spreading, sometimes covering 50 ft (15 m) of
ground, but in permeable soil some of the roots may descend to 20 ft (6
m). The deciduous leaves are palmate, deeply divided into 3 to 7 main
lobes, these more shallowly lobed and irregularly toothed on the
margins. The blade is up to 10 in (25 cm) in length and width, fairly
thick, rough on the upper surface, softly hairy on the underside. What
is commonly accepted as a "fruit" is technically a synconium, that is,
a fleshy, hollow receptacle with a small opening at the apex partly
closed by small scales. It may be obovoid, turbinate, or pear-shaped, 1
to 4 in (2.5-10 cm) long, and varies in color from yellowish-green to
coppery, bronze, or dark-purple. Tiny flowers are massed on the inside
wall. In the case of the common fig discussed here, the flowers are all
female and need no pollination. There are 3 other types, the
''Caprifig'' which has male and female flowers requiring visits by a
tiny wasp, Blastophaga grossorum; the "Smyrna" fig, needing
cross-pollination by Caprifigs in order to develop normally; and the
"San Pedro" fig which is intermediate, its first crop independent like
the common fig, its second crop dependent on pollination. The skin of
the fig is thin and tender, the fleshy wall is whitish, pale-yellow, or
amber, or more or less pink, rose, red or purple; juicy and sweet when
ripe, gummy with latex when unripe. Seeds may be large, medium, small
or minute and range in number from 30 to 1,600 per fruit.
Plate V: FIG, Ficus carica
Origin and Distribution
The fig is believed to
be indigenous to Western Asia and to have been distributed by man
throughout the Mediterranean area. It has been cultivated for thousands
of years, remnants of figs having been found in excavations of Neolithic
sites traced to at least 5,000 B.C. As time went on, the fig-growing
territory stretched from Afghanistan to southern Germany and the Canary
Islands. Pliny was aware of 29 types. Figs were introduced into England
some time between 1525 and 1548. It is not clear when the common fig
entered China but by 1550 it was reliably reported to be in Chinese
gardens. European types were taken to China, Japan, India, South Africa
The first figs in the New World were planted in
Mexico in 1560. Figs were introduced into California when the San Diego
Mission was established in 1769. Later, many special varieties were
received from Europe and the eastern United States where the fig reached
Virginia in 1669. The Smyrna fig was brought to California in 1881-82
but it was not until 1900 that the wasp was introduced to serve as the
pollinating agent and make commercial fig culture possible. From
Virginia, fig culture spread to the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida,
Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The tree was planted in
Bermuda in early times and was common around Bahamian plantations in
Colonial days. It became a familiar dooryard plant in the West Indies,
and at medium and low altitudes in Central America and northern South
America. There are fair-sized plantations on mountainsides of Honduras
and at low elevations on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. From Florida to
northern South America and in India only the common fig is grown. Chile
and Argentina grow the types suited to cooler zones.
In Venezuela, the fig is one of the fruits in
greatest demand by fruit processors. Because of the inadequate supply, a
program was launched in 1960 to encourage commercial plantings. In
1976, fresh figs were regarded as highly desirable luxuries and were
selling for $6.35 to $7.25 per lb ($14-$16/kg) in Colombia. The
Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario had realized some years earlier that
fig growing should be encouraged and had established an experimental
plantation in 1973. The results were so favorable that they circulated
an advisory bulletin to farmers in 1977, including improved methods of
cultivation, costs of production and potential revenue.
are many cultivated varieties in each class of figs. In fact, over 700
varietal names are in use but many are synonyms. Here we need only
present those that are suited to warm areas and do not require
pollination. Most popular among these are 'Celeste' and 'Brown Turkey',
followed by 'Brunswick' and 'Marseilles', described as follows:
ribbed, sometimes with a short neck and slender stalk to 3/4 in (2 cm)
long; the eye (opening at apex) is closed; the fruit is small to medium;
the skin purplish-brown or bronze tinged with purple and covered with
bloom; the pulp whitish or pinkish amber, of rich flavor and good
quality; almost seedless. Main crop is heavy but of short duration.
There is rarely an early, "breba", crop.
'Brown Turkey'—broad-pyriform, usually
without neck; medium to large; copper-colored; pulp is whitish shading
to pink or light red; of good to very good quality; with few seeds. The
tree is prolific. The main crop, beginning in mid-July, is large; the
early, breba, crop is small. This cultivar is well adapted to warm
climates. It is grown on all the islands of Hawaii.
('Magnolia')—leaves narrow-lobed; fruits of main crop are
oblique-turbinate, mostly without neck; fruit stalk thick, often
swollen; fruit of medium size; bronze or purple-brown; pulp whitish near
skin, shading to pink or amber; hollow in center; of fair to good
quality; nearly seedless. Ripens over a long season. Breba crop poor;
large, bronze-skinned; flesh light-red; coarse.
Marseilles', or 'Lemon')—fruits of main crop round to oblate without
neck; on slender stalks to 1/4 in (6 mm) long; of medium size. Those of
breba crop, turbinate with short, thick neck and short stalk;
yellow-green with small green flecks; pulp white, sweet; seeds large,
conspicuous. Of fair quality.
In Queensland, 'Brown Turkey', 'Adriatic', 'Genoa' and 'Purple Genoa' perform very well.
'Adriatic' ('White Adriatic', or 'Grosse
Verte')—turbinate with short, thick neck and short stalk; above medium
size; green to yellowish-green with red pulp; of distinctive flavor and
very good quality. In early, minor, breba crop the fruits are
oblique-pyriform, large, green, often tinged with purplish-red with
dark-red pulp and strong flavor.
Genoa')—pyriform or turbinate, very faintly ribbed; neck thick and
short, or absent; above medium in size; skin downy, greenish-yellow;
pulp greenish-white near skin, mostly amber tinged with red; hollow; of
fair quality. Fruits of breba crop oblique-obovate with thick neck and
short stalk; yellowish-green externally; pulp light-red; of fair to good
('Black Genoa'; 'Black Spanish') oblong, broad at apex, narrow at base;
large; very dark-purple with thick blue bloom; pulp yellowish becoming
reddish to red at the center; juicy, with sweet, rich flavor.
At Saharanpur, India, 'Brown Turkey', 'Bangalore',
'Black Ischia' and 'Lucknow' are successfully grown. Around Bombay,
there is only one variety, 'Poona'.
('Blue Ischia')—an Italian variety; main crop is elongated pear shaped
with many noticeable rlbs; short neck and short to medium stalk; large, 2
1/2 in (6.35 cm) long and 1 1/2 in (3.8 cm) wide; dark purple-black
except at the apex where it is lighter and greenish; there are many
golden flecks; skin is wholly coated with thin, dark-blue bloom; eye
open, with red-violet scales; pulp is violet-red, of good quality. In
the breba crop, there are few rlbs and mostly indistinct; the fruit is
small, about 1 1/2 in (3.8 cm) long and of the same width at the apex;
the pulp is red to greenish-amber; of poor flavor. The tree is
particularly ornamental and the leaves are glossy, only shallowly 3
lobed. A heavy bearer.
'Poona'-bell-shaped, of medium size, weighing about 1 1/2 oz (42 g); thin-skinned; light-purple with red flesh, of sweet, good flavor.
We have no descriptions of 'Bangalore' and 'Lucknow'.
In southern India, 'Marseilles' flourishes on hills
above 5,000 ft (1,525 m). In tropical areas generally, figs thrive
between 2,600 and 5,900 ft (800-1,800 m). The tree can tolerate 10° to
20° of frost in favorable sites. It should have a dry climate with light
early spring rains if it is intended for the production of fresh fruit.
Rains during fruit development and ripening are detrimental to the
crop, causing the fruits to split. The semi arid tropical and
subtropical regions of the world are ideal for fig-growing if means of
irrigation are available. But very hot, dry spells will cause fruit-drop
even if the trees are irrigated.
fig can be grown on a wide range of soils; light sand, rich loam, heavy
clay or limestone, providing there is sufficient depth and food
drainage. Sandy soil that is medium-dry and contains a good deal of
lime is preferred when the crop is intended for drying. Highly acid
soils are unsuitable. The pH should be between 6.0 and 6.5. The tree is
fairly tolerant of moderate salinity.
are raised in nursery beds and are set out in the field after 12 or 15
months. They may be spaced from 6 to 25 ft (1.8-7.5 m) apart depending
on the cultivar and the fertility of the soil. A spacing of 13 x 13 ft
(4x4 m) allows 260 trees/acre (625 trees/ha). In Colombia, growers are
advised to set the trees at 10 x 10 ft (3x3 m) on level land, 10 x 13
ft (3x4 m) on slopes. Fruiting will commence in less than a year from
planting out. Young plants will benefit from shading with palm fronds
or other material until they are well established. A fertilizer formula
of 10-30-10 or 10-20-20 NPK is recommended 2 oz (about 60 g) each for
young plants and 1/5 lb (100 g) each for adults, plus minor elements at
the rate of 1 oz (30 g) per tree every 6 months.
Fig trees are
cut back severely in fall or winter, depending on whether the crop is
desired the following summer or fall. Branches are often notched to
induce lateral branching and increase the yield. If there are heavy
rains, drainage ditches should be dug to prevent water-logging. Fig
trees remain productive up to 12 or 15 years of age and thereafter the
crop declines though the trees may live to a very advanced age.
trees usually bear 2 crops a year, the early season ("breba") fruits
being inferior and frequently too acid, and only those of the second,
or main, crop of actual value.
In Colombia and Venezuela, some
fruits are borne throughout the year but there are 2 principal crops,
one in May and June and the other in December and January.
fig producers in California spray ethephon to speed up ripening and
then wind-machines are drawn past the trees or helicopter overflights
are made to hasten fruit drop, thus shortening the harvest period by as
much as 10 days in order to avoid impending rain and insect attack.
Proper timing of the growth regulator is crucial to fruit quality.
Harvesting and Yield
fruits may be picked from the tree or gathered normally or by
mechanical sweepers after they fall to the ground. 'Brunswick' is so
tender it must be picked when slightly unripe in order to be firm
enough for processing. Workers must wear gloves and protective clothing
because of the latex. Harvested fruits are spread out in the shade for
a day so that the latex will dry a little. Then they are transported to
processing plants in wooden boxes holding 22 to 33 lbs (10-15 kg). In
India, a fig tree bears 180 to 360 fruits per year. Venezuelan growers
expect 132 to 176 lbs (6-8 kg) per tree.
figs are very perishable. At 40° to 43°F (4.44°-6.11°C)
and 75% relative humidity, figs remain in good condition for 8 days but
have a shelf life of only 1 to 2 days when removed from storage. At
50°F (10°C) and relative humidity of 85%, figs can be kept no
longer than 21 days. They remain in good condition for 30 days when
stored at 32° to 35° F (0°-1.67° C). If frozen whole,
they can be maintained for several months.
Pests and Diseases
Fig trees are prone to attack by nematodes (especially Meloidogyne
spp.) and, in the tropics, have been traditionally planted close to a
wall or building so that the roots can go underneath and escape damage.
A heavy mulch will serve equally well. Today, control is possible with
proper application of nematicides.
In India, a stem-borer, Batocera rufomaculata, feeds on the branches and may kill the tree. Lepidopterous pests in Venezuela include the fig borer, Azochis gripusalis,
the larvae of which feed on the new growth, tunnel down through the
trees to the roots and kill the tree. Another, called cachudo de la
higuera, has prominently horned larvae up to 3 1/8 in (8 cm) long that
can destroy a fig tree in a few days. There are also coleopterous
insects of the genera Epitrix and Colaspis that perforate and severely damage the leaves and shoots. Scale insects include Asterolecanium sp. which attacks the bark of trees weakened by excessive humidity or prolonged drought, and the lesser enemy, Saissetia haemispherica.
A common and widespread problem is leaf rust caused by Cerotelium fici;
bringing about premature leaf fall and reducing yields. It is most
prevalent in rainy seasons. Leaf spot results from infection by Cylindrocladium scoparium or Cercospora fici. Fig mosaic is caused by a virus and is incurable. Affected trees must be destroyed.
The dried fruit beetle, or sour bug, Carpophilus spp., enters the fruit through the eye and leads to souring and smut caused by Aspergillus niger. This fungus may attack ripening fruits.
people peel the skin back from the stem end to expose the flesh for
eating out of-hand. The more fastidious eater holds the fruit by the
stem end, cuts the fruit into quarters from the apex, spreads the
sections apart and lifts the flesh from the skin with a knife blade,
discarding the stem and skin. Commercially, figs are peeled by
immersion for 1 minute in boiling lye water or a boiling solution of
sodium bicarbonate. In warm, humid climates, figs are generally eaten
fresh and raw without peeling, and they are often served with cream and
sugar. Peeled or unpeeled, the fruits may be merely stewed or cooked in
various ways, as in pies, puddings, cakes, bread or other bakery
products, or added to ice cream mix. Home owners preserve the whole
fruits in sugar sirup or prepare them as jam, marmalade, or paste. Fig
paste (with added wheat and corn flour, whey, sirup, oils and other
ingredients) forms the filling for the well known bakery product, "Fig
Newton". The fruits are sometimes candied whole commercially. In
Europe; western Asia, northern Africa and California, commercial
canning and drying of figs are industries of great importance.
drying is done in Poona, India, and there is currently interest in
solar-drying in Guatemala. Usually, the fruits are allowed to fully
ripen and partially dehydrate on the tree, then are exposed to sulphur
fumes for about a half hour, placed out in the sun and turned daily to
achieve uniform drying, and pressed flat during the 5- to 7-day
process. 'Black Mission' and 'Kadota' figs are suitable for freezing
whole in sirup, or sliced and layered with sugar.
figs have been roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. In
Mediterranean countries, low-grade figs are converted into alcohol. An
alcoholic extract of dried figs has been used as a flavoring for
liqueurs and tobacco.
latex of the unripe fruits and of any part of the tree may be severely
irritating to the skin if not removed promptly. It is an occupational
hazard not only to fig harvesters and packers but also to workers in
food industries, and to those who employ the latex to treat skin
Dried seeds contain 30% of a fixed oil containing the fatty acids:
oleic, 18.99%; linoleic, 33.72%; linolenic, 32.95%; palmitic, 5.23%;
stearic, 2.1 8%; arachidic, 1.05%. It is an edible oil and can be used
as a lubricant.
Fig leaves are used for fodder in India. They are plucked after the
fruit harvest. Analyses show: moisture, 67.6%; protein, 4.3%; fat,
1.7%; crude fiber, 4.7%; ash, 5.3%; N-free extract, 16.4%; pentosans,
3.6%; carotene on a dry weight basis, 0.002%. Also present are
bergaptene, stigmasterol, sitosterol, and tyrosine.
France, there is some use of fig leaves as a source of perfume material
called "fig-leaf absolute"—a dark-green to brownish-green,
semi-solid mass or thick liquid of herbaceous-woody-mossy odor,
employed in creating woodland scents.
The latex contains caoutchouc (2.4%), resin, albumin, cerin, sugar and
malic acid, rennin, proteolytic enzymes, diastase, esterase, lipase,
catalase, and peroxidase. It is collected at its peak of activity in
early morning, dried and powdered for use in coagulating milk to make
cheese and junket. From it can be isolated the protein-digesting enzyme
ficin which is used for tenderizing meat, rendering fat, and clarifying
In tropical America, the latex is often used for
washing dishes, pots and pans. It was an ingredient in some of the
early commercial detergents for household use but was abandoned after
many reports of irritated or inflamed hands in housewives.
The latex is widely applied on warts, skin ulcers and sores, and taken
as a purgative and vermifuge, but with considerable risk. In Latin
America, figs are much employed as folk remedies. A decoction of the
fruits is gargled to relieve sore throat; figs boiled in milk are
repeatedly packed against swollen gums; the fruits are much used as
poultices on tumors and other abnormal growths. The leaf decoction is
taken as a remedy for diabetes and calcifications in the kidneys and
liver. Fresh and dried figs have long been appreciated for their
Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
|Fiber||1.2-2.2 g ||5.6 g|
|Ash||0.48 0.85 g||2.3 g|
|Calcium||5-78.2 mg||126 mg|
|Phosphorus||22-32.9 mg||77 mg|
|Iron ||0.6-4.09 mg||3.0 mg|
|Sodium ||2.0 mg||34 mg|
|Potassium||194 mg||640 mg|
|Carotene||0.013-0.195 mg ||—|
|as Vitamin A||20-270 I.U.||80 I.U.|
|Thiamine||0.034-0.06 mg||0.10 mg|
|Riboflavin||0.053-0.079 mg||0.10 mg|
|Niacin||0.32-0.412 mg||0.7 mg|
|Ascorbic Acid||12.2-17.6 mg||0 mg|
|Citric Acid ||0.10-0.44 mg |
Note: There are small amounts of malic, boric and oxalic acids.
*According to analyses made in India, Hawaii, Central America, and by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
Last updated: 12/3/114 by ch