The common fig tree is a member of the mulberry family, the genus ficus, and is a flowering plant that is native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia. Since its early cultivation, the common fig tree has now been naturalized in various locations in North America as well.
It is known that the common fig tree was the first-ever plant to be cultivated by humans. There are fossils from 9400-9200 BC that were found in the Jordan Valley near Jericho, that determine the presence of fig cultivars.
This is pretty wild, as fig cultivation preceded the cultivation of even wheat and barley. The cultivation of these foods didn’t occur until an estimated 1000 years later!
This small deciduous tree is referred to as the brown turkey fig in the United Kingdom. These delicious fruits have given us fig newtons, dried figs, and the indescribable pleasure of fresh ripe fig.
Feeling curious about different types of fruit trees? We’ve got you covered there! We’ve also got a super-duper compiled list of 101 Types of Trees from all over the globe so satiate that curiosity. Every day is tree appreciation day around here!
What Do Common Fig Trees Look Like?
Fig trees are known for having very aggressive root systems, to the point of being invasive. There are even one fig species that is known as the “strangler fig” for being an exceptional nuisance to other plant life.
The common fig tree has very densely packed wide spread and deep root systems. This is because they are phreatophytes, which are plants with a specialized root system that is decided to absorb as much water from the soil as possible can.
Fig tree roots are always in contact with a water source and will grow in any direction in order to access those moisture reserves. This can be very problematic in urban settings but is very helpful to a wild fig tree that is in settings that are particularly inhospitable.
The common fig tree is referred to as either a very small tree or a very large shrub. They will grow to heights between 7 and 10 meters.
The common fig tree has many branches that emerge rather low on the trunk the tree. They grow in an upward ascending fashion, creating a very robust and dense shade canopy. When grown in favorable conditions in the wild, fig-trees can actually grow quite tall and large, creating a wonderful shade tree for other plant life that needs protection from the dry and hot conditions of the growing location.
Fig trees are known for having very smooth, soft, and lightly colored bark with little texture.
Fig tree leaves are a glossy deep green color. A leaf will usually be 4-10 inches long and is deeply lobed with either 3 or 5 lobes.
Fig leaves are known as being rather fragrant. They have noticeable white veins running through the center of the leaf and extending into each lobe.
How Do Common Fig Trees Reproduce?
The common fig tree is rather unusual for the way it reproduces. A fig tree does not actually have a reproductive characteristic like a cone or a flower; for the fig itself is actually the reproductive tool.
The fig itself is the flower and is more of an inverted flower. The fig is a holly, fleshy fruit called a syconium. In botany, a syconium is known as being an infructescence, which is one fruit comprising of multiple fruits.
The “flowers” occur on the inside of the fig (which is where the “inversion” aspect comes from) and line the entire inside lining of the fruit. There is a small opening on the fig called an ostiole, and it is in the middle of the fruit. This is where things start to get very strange.
This ostiole acts as a narrow passageway, which is a passage for only one creature, and that is the fig wasp. The fig wasp (blastophaga psense) is the only way that fig has successful pollination. Let’s say that a fig wasp only has one specialty!
So the fig wasp enters the ostiole and proceeds to make its way into the inflorescence where it will then pollinate all of the inverted flowers within the fig fruit. Once the flowers have been fertilized, the ovule develops into a seed.
Once the fruit is mature, these seeds line the entire inner casing of the fig, and these become the delicious “druplets” that all of us love and adore. The whole ripe fig, once it is completely mature, is only 2 inches long. The outer skin starts out as being green before ripening into a purple/brown color.
(I’m going to be honest here, I’m never going to be able to eat a fig in the same way again after learning that.)
It is also important to explain the significance of a breba crop. This is another unusual aspect of the fig tree. Fig trees will produce 2 different crops. The first being the breba crop, which develops on the previous years shoot growth in the early spring.
The late summer or fall is when the main fig crop will emerge on the current year’s shoots, and this is the main growing season for a fig tree. The main crop is the one that is delicious and juicy, whereas the breba crop tends to be smaller and less appealing looking and tasting, and is known as being the second crop.
What Are Some Fig Tree Varieties?
The Strangler Fig Tree
The strangler fig tree (ficus aurea) is native to Florida, the Caribbean, Panama, and southern Mexico. This fig variety is a very tall tree that produces a yellow fig and is also used for ornamental and bonsai purposes. The tree gets its name from the way that its aerial roots develop and completely swallows the trunk of its host tree.
The Black Mission Fig Tree
The black mission fig tree is a fig cultivar of ficus carica, and it grows in California, only in USDA zone 9. It is considered as being a very high-quality fig variety with high fruit production, with a very dark-skinned fig with a lovely strawberry-colored interior.
The Weeping Fig Tree
The weeping fig tree (ficus Benjamina) is also known as simply the Benjamin fig and is a beautiful member of the ficus species. This is the official tree of Bangkok and is native to Asia and Australia. There are very large trees with huge glossy leaves and are also responsible for the Kadota fig cultivar.
Where do Common Fig Trees Grow?
The common fig tree prefers to grow in the wildest, dry, and sunny locations on the planet. They can be found growing in very rocky locations occurring from sea level all the way up to 1700 meters in elevation.
They are mostly found growing in middle eastern countries and Mediterranean climates.
What Are the Growing Conditions of the Common Fig Tree?
The common fig tree prefers to grow in deep, fresh, porous, and well-drained soils. They are very tolerant to drought conditions, thanks to their root system type.
Common fig trees are sun-loving, more so than most other types of trees. They are so sun-loving that they often assume the responsibility of being the shade tree to other plants, that can’t handle the amount of sun exposure of these growing locations.
Thanks to its unique root system, the common fig tree is rather tolerant of drought conditions. Their roots will simply grow in any direction required to access moisture reserves.
They will often grow in areas near standing or running water. This occurs in valleys, ravines, and rivers. This is not only beneficial for the tree itself, but it also helps cool the surrounding environment, making it a more livable habitat for other animals and plants.
These trees are so good at finding water, that they will actually grow in rock cracks to access the moisture in rocks. Wild!
How Are Fig Trees Used?
Fig trees are first and foremost used for the delicious fruit that they produce. These trees have been cultivated by humans since ancient times, even before humans cultivated wheat!
Not only do fig trees provide sustenance for humans, but they are also an important source of fire for various bird and mammal species. In turn, the birds and mammals aid in scattering the seeds through their droppings. The fig tree owes the dispersal of its population entirely to those animals that feed on its fruit!