Each of the over 900 different kinds of fig trees in the world is pollinated by its own specific kind of fig wasp. Fig tree flowers do not open to the outside world. Instead, the tiny flowers are located inside the hollow center of the growing fruit. In a complex process, the fig wasps develop within the fig (from eggs previously deposited by an adult female fig wasp), pollinate the flowers, and then exit from the fig, usually before it ripens and falls to the ground.

In the tree or on the ground the fig fruits are eaten by many animals, including birds, bats, monkeys, and animals living on the forest floor. These animals help scatter the fig seeds to other locations in the forest. Thus, while accomplishing its own reproduction, the fig tree also enables successful reproduction by the fig wasp, and provides food for many animals of the forest.

Fig wasp larvae somehow prevent the fig from ripening, thus increasing the likelihood of their survival (i.e. they mature to adult wasps and escape from the fig before it ripens and is eaten by some animal). But even inside the fig they are not totally safe! There is still another kind of wasp (the "fig wasp" parasitic wasp) that drills a small hole into the fig and deposits her egg near a developing fig wasp larva; the larva hatching from the egg survives by eating the fig wasp larva.

A Brief History of Figs

Figs (moraceae ficus) have a long and well documented history. They are thought to be native to the arid regions of Asia Minor and ancestors of the modern fig tree still grow there today. Figs were cultivated more than 6000 years ago, as show by ancient writings from the countries of Babylon and Sumaria. The Bible makes numerous references to figs. A fig tree was present in the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve used the leaves from the tree to cover themselves once they learned they were naked. Humorists point to several verses in the Bible to show that God hates figs.

Figs were extremely popular in Ancient Greece and Rome. The Greek city of Attica was famous for its figs and the fruit was reserved only for Greek citizens. Many people tried to illegally export the figs. This lead to the term "sycophant", which translates to "to show the fig". Sycophants were informers who revealed people who were trying to export figs. Ancient Greeks prized figs for their healing properties and were eaten by and awarded to Olympic athletes. Fig syrup was also commonly used as a sweetener. The Romans thought the god Bacchus, the god of wine and festivities, gave the fig tree to humans and fig leaves were a symbol of that god. Figs were a favorite of Cleopatra, and the asp that killed her was supposedly delivered in a basket of the fruit.

The Greeks and Romans were responsible for spreading the fig to Africa and the Mediterranean countries. Figs were then brought to Europe and China by Italy during the Renaissance. Figs were later brought to California by Spanish missionaries in the late 1700s. Other varieties of figs were later imported from Europe to the East coast of the United States. Today California is the third largest producer of figs in the world behind Turkey and Greece.

Growing Figs

Figs are actually not a fruit but a flower that has inverted onto itself. The fruit is actually the tiny seeds and pulp that are present inside the fig. Many botanists think the fig is similar to an inverted strawberry. Figs may or may not need to be pollinated depending on the variety. If the figs are pollinated the resulting fruit has seeds on the inside, otherwise the fruit remains seedless. Pollinated fruits are larger than the nonpollinated fruits and have a nutty flavor due to the presence of the seeds. Seeded figs tend to dry better, while seedless figs make better preserves. Tiny wasps (Blastophaga psenes) native to Asia Minor are vital for pollinating the Calimyrna/Smyrna variety of figs. The wasps enter into the developing fruit and pollinate the inside section. Fig growers in California were unable to produce this variety until they imported these wasps.

Fig trees are deciduous and grow to be roughly 30 feet tall. They grow well in semi-desert regions with warm, dry summers and mild winters. The fruits are generally harvested twice a year, first in June and later between August and September. Figs are the only fruit that are allowed to fully ripen and even dry on the tree. Only a very small percentage of figs are harvested when they are ripe because fresh figs ship poorly. Most figs are allowed to dry and fall off the tree before they are harvested.

Varieties of Figs

There are several hundred varieties of figs grown around the world today, with roughly fifty commonly grown in the United States. The varieties are loosely divided into two groups: those with black skins and those with green or yellow skins. The most common varieties of figs available in the United States are:

  • Mission: This large variety was named after the Spanish missionaries that introduced this fruit to California. It has a deep purple to black thin skin with light pink flesh and has a distinctive sweet, fruity flavor. This variety does not need to be pollinated.
  • Calimyrna: This large variety is derived from the Turkish Smyrna variety and is the most common variety grown in California. It has a golden to green thick skin with a pale pink-purple inner flesh and seeds. It is considered the best fig to eat fresh and has a pleasant nutty flavor due to its numerous seeds. It is also the most common variety that is dried.
  • Kadota: This smaller fig is native to Italy. It has a light yellow, green, or almost white thick skin. It does not need to be pollinated, and as a result is nearly seedless. These figs are a good all-purpose fruit and are commonly eaten raw, dried, or canned.
  • Adriatic: This variety is native to the Mediterranean area. It has a green to yellow skin with a light pink flesh. This variety contains the highest amount of sugar and is mainly used to make fig bars and paste. This type does not need to be pollinated.

Using Figs

Fresh figs may be available in your supermarket from July to November, peaking in October. Look for figs that are soft to the touch but not bruised. Slightly shriveled figs indicate that the fruit is beginning to dry and will be very sweet. Underripe, firm figs can be ripened by placing them out on a counter for a couple of days. Fresh figs should be eaten immediately and can be stored in the fridge for only a few days. They bruise very easily, so handle them carefully. Dried or canned figs are available year round.

Fresh figs are delicious eaten raw. They are made up of about 50% sugar, making them sweeter than any commercially sold fruit. To prepare them, simply cut off the tougher stem region and halve or quarter the fruit. The figs, especially the thicker skinned varieties, can also be peeled. Figs are commonly wrapped around prosciutto like cantalope. Figs can also be stuffed with sweet or savory fillings such as soft cheeses, cream, chocolate, or nuts. tdent notes that figs go well with thick Greek yogurt. Fresh figs can also be baked.

Besides being eaten raw, figs are also canned and made into preserves. Dried figs add moisture, flavor, and an interesting crunch from their seeds to baked goods like muffins and breads. Concentrated fig syrup can be purchased at some specialty stores. It is used to flavor and sweeten baked goods. Dried fig paste is also used in baked goods.

Figs have the highest amount of fiber in any fruit or vegetable, containing both soluble and insoluble forms. Figs also have a high amount of calcium, iron, and potassium. They contain an enzyme called bromelain, also present in pineapple and papaya. This enzyme will prevent jello from setting, so if you have a desire to make fig jello use canned figs instead of fresh, as the canning process destroys the enzyme. Conversely, bromelain is thought to also help tenderize meats, making fresh figs a good addition to a marinade.


Fig (?), n. [F. figue the fruit of the tree, Pr. figa, fr. L. ficus fig tree, fig. Cf. Fico.]

1. Bot.

A small fruit tree (Ficus Carica) with large leaves, known from the remotest antiquity. It was probably native from Syria westward to the Canary Islands.


The fruit of a fig tree, which is of round or oblong shape, and of various colors.

⇒ The fruit of a fig tree is really the hollow end of a stem, and bears numerous achenia inside the cavity. Many species have little, hard, inedible figs, and in only a few does the fruit become soft and pulpy. The fruit of the cultivated varieties is much prized in its fresh state, and also when dried or preserved. See Caprification.


A small piece of tobacco.



The value of a fig, practically nothing; a fico; -- used in scorn or contempt.

"A fig for Peter."


Cochineal fig. See Conchineal fig. -- Fig dust, a preparation of fine oatmeal for feeding caged birds. -- Fig faun, one of a class of rural deities or monsters supposed to live on figs. "Therefore shall dragons dwell there with the fig fauns." Jer. i. 39. (Douay version). -- Fig gnat Zool., a small fly said to be injurious to figs. -- Fig leaf, the leaf tree; hence, in allusion to the first clothing of Adam and Eve (Genesis iii.7), a covering for a thing that ought to be concealed; esp., an inadequate covering; a symbol for affected modesty. -- Fig marigold Bot., the name of several plants of the genus Mesembryanthemum, some of which are prized for the brilliancy and beauty of their flowers. -- Fig tree Bot., any tree of the genus Ficus, but especially F. Carica which produces the fig of commerce.


© Webster 1913.

Fig, v. t. [See Fico, Fig, n.]


To insult with a fico, or contemptuous motion. See Fico.


When Pistol lies, do this, and fig me like The bragging Spaniard. Shak.


To put into the head of, as something useless o contemptible.




© Webster 1913.

Fig, n.

Figure; dress; array.


Were they all in full fig, the females with feathers on their heads, the males with chapeaux bras? Prof. Wilson.


© Webster 1913.

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