Fruit Facts from
California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
© 1996, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
Names: Fig (English), Higo (Spanish), Figue
(French), Feige (German), Fico (Italian).
Species: Cluster fig (Ficus
racemosa), Sycomore Fig (Ficus sycomorus).
Affinity: Mulberry (Morus
spp.); Breadfruit (Artocarpus
altilis Fosb.); Jakfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus
Lam.); Che; Chinese Mulberry (Cudrania
The fig is believed to be indigenous to western Asia and to have been
distributed by man throughout the Mediterranean area. Remnants of figs
have been found in excavations of sites traced to at least 5,000 B.C.
The fig grows
best and produces the best quality fruit in Mediterranean and dryer
warm-temperate climates. Rains during fruit development and ripening
can cause the fruits to split. With extra care figs will also grow in
wetter, cooler areas. Diseases limit utility in tropical climates.
Fully dormant trees are hardy to 12° – 15° F, but plants
in active growth can be damaged at 30° F. Fig plants killed to the
ground will often resprout from the roots. Only the hardiest cultivars
should be attempted in areas such as the Willamette Valley, the Sierra
Nevada and high desert. However, all cultivars are suitable elsewhere
in California. Chilling requirements for the fig are less than 300
hours. In containers figs are eye-catching specimens inside or
outdoors. It is best to choose a slow-growing cultivar.
The fig is a picturesque deciduous tree, to 50 ft tall, but more
typically to a height of 10 – 30 ft. Their branches are muscular
and twisting, spreading wider than they are tall. Fig wood is weak and
decays rapidly. The trunk often bears large nodal tumors, where
branches have been shed or removed. The twigs are terete and pithy
rather than woody. The sap contains copious milky latex that is
irritating to human skin. Fig trees often grow as a multiple-branched
shrub, especially where subjected to frequent frost damage. They may be
espaliered, but only where roots may be restricted, as in containers.
Fig leaves are bright green, single, alternate and large (to 1 ft
length). They are more or less deeply lobed with 1 – 5 sinuses,
rough hairy on the upper surface and soft hairy on the underside. In
summer their foliage lends a beautiful tropical feeling.
The tiny flowers of the fig are out of sight, clustered inside the
green “fruits”, technically a synconium. Pollinating
insects gain access to the flowers through an opening at the apex of
the synconium. In the case of the common fig 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 common fig bears a first crop, called the breba crop, in the spring
on last season’s growth. The second crop is borne in the fall on
the new growth and is known as the main crop. In cold climates the
breba crop is often destroyed by spring frosts. The matured
“fruit” has a tough peel (pure green, green suffused with
brown, brown or purple), often cracking upon ripeness, and exposing the
pulp beneath. The interior is a white inner rind containing a seed mass
bound with jelly-like flesh. The edible seeds are numerous and
generally hollow, unless pollinated. Pollinated seeds provide the
characteristic nutty taste of dried figs.
Figs require full sun all day to ripen palatable fruits. Trees become
enormous, and will shade out anything growing beneath. Repeated pruning
to control size causes loss of crop. The succulent trunk and branches
are unusually sensitive to heat and sun damage, and should be
whitewashed if particularly exposed. Roots are greedy, traveling far
beyond the tree canopy. Figs are not a fruit tree for small places. The
fine roots that invade garden beds, however, may be cut without loss to
the tree. In areas with short (less than 120 days between frosts), cool
summers, espalier trees against a south-facing, light-colored wall to
take advantage of the reflected heat. In coastal climates, grow in the
warmest location, against a sunny wall or in a heat trap. For container
grown plants, replace most of the soil in the tub every three years and
keep the sides of the tub shaded to prevent overheating in sunlight.
Young fig tees should be watered regularly until fully established. In
dry western climates, water mature trees deeply at least every one or
two weeks. Desert gardeners may have to water more frequently. Mulch
the soil around the trees to conserve moisture. If a tree is not
getting enough water, the leaves will turn yellow and drop. Also,
drought-stressed trees will not produce fruit and are more susceptible
to nematode damage. Recently planted trees are particularly susceptible
to water deficits, often runt out, and die.
Fig trees are productive with or without heavy pruning. It is essential
only during the initial years. Trees should be trained according to use
of fruit, such as a low crown for fresh-market figs. Since the crop is
borne on terminals of previous year’s wood, once the tree form is
established, avoid heavy winter pruning, which causes loss of the
following year’s crop. It is better to prune immediately after
the main crop is harvested, or with late-ripening cultivars, summer
prune half the branches and prune the remainder the following summer.
If radical pruning is done, whitewash the entire tree.
Regular fertilizing of figs is usually necessary only for potted trees
or when they are grown on sands. Excess nitrogen encourages rank growth
at the expense of fruit production, and the fruit that is produced
often ripens improperly, if at all. As a general rule, fertilize fig
trees if the branches grew less than a foot the previous year. Apply a
total of 1/2 – 1 pound of actual nitrogen, divided into three or
four applications beginning in late winter or early spring and ending
In borderline climates, figs can be grown out of doors if they are
given frost protection. Brown Turkey, Brunswick and Blue Celeste
cultivars are some of the best choices. Plant against a wall or
structure which provides some heat by radiation. Or grow as a bush,
pruning the trunk to near ground level at the end of the second year.
Allow several stems to replace the trunk, and grow as you would a
lilac. For further protection, erect a frame over the plant, covering
and surrounding it with heavy carpet in winter. Keep the roots as dry
as possible during winter, raising a berm to exclude melting snows
during thaws. In northern climates, the fig is best grown as a tub or
pot plant that can be brought into a warm location in winter and taken
out again in spring. Dormant buds are more susceptible to freezing than
wood. Freezing may also create a trunk without live buds; regrowth is
possible only from roots.
Fig plants are usual propagated by cuttings. Select foot-long pieces of
dormant wood, less than 1 inch diameter, with two-year-old wood at
base. One-year twigs with a heel of two-year branch at the base may
also be used. Dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone and allow them to
callus one week in a moist place at 50-60° F. Summer cuttings may
also be made, but they do best if defoliated and winterized in a
refrigeration for 2-3 weeks before potting. Leafy shoots require a mist
bed. Particularly rare cultivars may be propagated on rootstocks, or
older trees, topworked by whip, cleft or crown grafting, or chip or
patch budding. Rooted cuttings should be planted in 22 to 30 feet
squares, depending upon the capacity of the soil and the ultimate size
of the tree. Keep roots moist until planted. Never transplant or
disturb a young tree while it is starting new growth in spring, as this
is likely to to kill it. Cut the tree back to 2 ft high upon planting
and whitewash the trunk.
Fig tree roots are a favorite food of gophers, who can easily kill a
large plant. One passive method of control is to plant the tree in a
large aviary wire basket. Deer are not particularly attracted to figs,
but birds can cause a lot of damage to the fruit. Nematodes,
particularly in sandy soils, attack roots, forming galls and stunting
Mitadulid and Carpophilus dried fruit beetles can
enter ripening fruit through the eye and cause damage by introducing
fungi and rots. They frequently breed in fallen citrus fruits. Keep a
clean orchard by destroy fallen fruits and do not grow near citrus
trees. Euryphid mites cause little damage but are carriers of mosaic
virus from infected to clean trees.
Mosaic virus, formerly
considered benign, probably causes crop reduction. Symptoms resemble
potassium deficiency–leaves are marbled with yellow spots, and
the veins are light colored. Symptoms are often not apparent until the
tree is older or when it becomes heat or water-stressed. Do not
purchase infected trees and isolate those which show symptoms. Botrytis
causes a blast of branch terminals, which dry out and turn
charcoal-like. The attack usually starts from half-grown fruits damaged
by the first frost of winter, then enters the main stem as a reddish
expanding necrotic zone. The infection is generally self-controlling
and stops in the spring. It can be prevented by removing mummies and
frost damaged fruits as soon as they are observed. Fig canker is a
bacterium which enters the trunk at damaged zones, causing necrosis and
girdling and loss of branches. It usually starts at sunburned areas, so
it is important to keep exposed branches whitewashed. Rhyzopus smut
attacks ripened fruits on the tree, causing charcoal black coating
inside the fruit, and is worst on cultivars with large, open eyes. Most
ripe fruit losses are from Endosepsis (Fusarium) and Aspergillus rot
which is introduced by insects, even pollinating wasps. The fruit
appears to burst, or a ropy, mucus-like exudate drains from the eye,
rendering the fruit are inedible. The best control is to destroy all
crop for one year, apply diazinon granules beneath trees to eliminate
insect vectors, and destroy adjacent wild trees. Penicillium fungus
will attack dried fruits in storage but can be controlled by keeping
them dry, or sulfuring before storage.
Figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked.
They will not ripen if picked when immature. A ripe fruit will be
slightly soft and starting to bend at the neck. Harvest the fruit
gently to avoid bruising. Fresh figs do not keep well and can be stored
in the refrigerator for only 2 – 3 days. Some fig varieties are
delicious when dried. They take 4 – 5 days to dry in the sun and
10 -12 hours in a dehydrator. Dried figs can be stored for six to eight
Because of losses in transport and short shelf life, figs are a
high-value fruits of limited demand. The best outlet is direct sale at
roadside or farmers markets, but do not permit handling of the fruit.
Figs for shipping are collected daily just before they reach the fully
ripe stage, but yield to a soft pressure, usually indicated by small
cracks in the skin. They should be immediately refrigerated. For
commerce, choose a cultivar that parts readily from the branch and does
not tear the neck.
Adriatic (Fragola, Strawberry Fig, Verdone, White Adriatic)
Origin central Italy, Small to medium, skin greenish, flesh strawberry
colored. Good, all-purpose fig. Light breba crop. Large vigorous tree
leafs out early; subject to frost damage. Prune to force new growth.
(Beers Black, Franciscan, Mission)
Origin Balearic Islands. Fruits all-over black purple, elongated, Flesh
watermelon to pink, fairly good taste. Easily dried at home. Single
best all-round variety for south, north, coast, interior. Brebas
prolific, fairly rich. Tree very large, plant at maximum spacing. Do
not prune after tree reaches maturity. Commences growth midseason.
(Italian Honey fig, Lattarula, Lemon, White Marseille)
Medium to large, skin yellowish green, flesh white to amber, very
sweet, lemon flavor. Light breba crop. Valuable in short-season,
cool-summer areas. Slow growing, dense, hardy tree.
(Aubique Noire, Negro Largo, San Piero
Origin Provence. Medium, skin is purplish brown, flesh pinkish amber.
Good flavor. Best when fresh. Light breba crop. Small, hardy, vigorous
tree. Prune severely for heaviest main crop. Does best in southern
(Blue Celeste, Honey Fig, Malta, Sugar, Violette)
Small to medium, skin is light violet to violet-brown, flesh reddish
amber. Very sweet, usually dried. Light breba crop. Tightly closed eye,
good for Southeast. Small, productive, hardy.
Origin Ira Condit, Riverside 1956. First artificial hybrid
Fruit pale green, medium, flesh strawberry red. Mildly sweet. Good
fresh, excellent dried. More productive than Adriatic but of lesser
quality. Light breba crop. Tree vigorous, tends to excessive growth
under irrigation, best in hot climates.
(Cordelia, Gillette, St. John)
Only edible caprifig. Fruits very early, only brebas are useful. Fruits
pale yellow, small, pulp nearly white, without a lot of character. Tree
low, dense, spreading. . For north coast and Pacific Northwest.
Origin Madera, Calif. 1920. San Pedro type. Large, skin is deep green,
minutely spotted white, pulp strawberry red. Sweet, delicious fresh or
dried. Commonly matures good fruit without caprification near the
coast. Tree highly vigorous. Hardy, best adapted to to cool areas such
as the Pacific Northwest.
Origin W.B. Storey, Riverside, 1975. Large, skin is yellow, flesh light
amber. Fruits practically neckless, blocky. Very sweet. Excellent,
all-purpose fig. Light breba crop. Similar to Kadota but more
productive. Tree vigorous, even rank. Does well in most parts of
Origin I.J. Condit, Riverside, 1965. Seedling of White Adriatic.
Medium, long neck, skin is brownish yellow with violet stripes, flesh
amber. Strong, fine flavor. Excellent all-purpose fruit. Good breba
crop. Ripens late. Tree vigorous but requires no great pruning. For
south coastal California, San Joaquin Valley.
Origin Leonard Jessen, Pasadena, 1986. Probable seedling of California
Brown Turkey. Large and broad, fruit is brown to black, pulp pink.
(Dottato, Florentine, White Kadota)
Medium, skin is yellowish green, flesh amber, tinged pink at center.
Flavor rich. Resists souring. Little or no breba crop. Tree upright,
requires annual pruning to slow growth. Requires hot, dry climate for
Origin Leonard Jessen, Pasadena, 1984. Seedling of Black Mission. Fruit
smaller than Mission, black, pulp pink, quite sweet.
Prolific (Arachipel, Neveralla)
Medium to large, skin is dark reddish brown, flesh amber, often tinged
pink. Very sweet, best fresh. Light breba crop. Tree upright, bare,
will grow in shade. Ripens late. Only for north coast, Pacific
Northwest. Poor in warm climates.
(Striped Tiger, Tiger)
Small to medium, skin is greenish yellow with dark green strips, flesh
strawberry, dry but sweet. Best fresh. No breba crop. Requires long,
warm growing season. Ripens late.
Origin W.B. Storey, Riverside, 1975. Small, skin is light green,flesh
amber. Fine flavor. Good fresh or dried. Good breba crop. Bears
heavily. Tree strong, dense. For coastal California and interior south.
Medium, skin is greenish yellow to white, flesh yellow-amber. Sweet,
good fresh or dried. Light breba and main crops.Tree upright, requires
constant annual pruning. Best adapted to cooler regions of the West.
Very late in northern California, continuing to ripen even after first
Large, skin is green, flesh deep red, long neck. Excellent flavor. Good
fresh or dried. Good breba crop. Ripens late but matures well in cool
areas. Compact tree.
Small, skin is greenish yellow, flesh strawberry. Excellent fresh or
dried. Good breba crop. Small tree. Recommended for short-summer
Condit. I. J. The Fig. Waltham, Mass., Chronica Botanica Co., 1947.
Condit, I. J. Fig Culture in California. Extension Service Circular 77,
Condit, I. J. Fig Varieties: A Monograph. Hilgardia 23:11 (Feb 1955).
Eisen, G. The Fig – Its History, Culture and Curing. U.S. Department of
Agriculture Bulletin 9 . 1901.
Eisen, G. and F. S. Earle. Fig Culture. U.S. Department of Agriculture
Bulletin 5, 1897.
Morton, Julia F. Fruits of Warm Climates. Creative Resources Systems,
Inc. 1987. pp. 47-50.
Ortho Books. All About Citrus and Subtropical Fruits. Chevron Chemical
Co. 1985. pp. 46-48.
Schurrie, H. The Fig. Timber Press Horticultural Reviews 12:409 (1990)
Starnes, H. N. The Fig in Georgia. Georgia Experiment Station Bulletin
Starnes, H. N. and J. F, Monroe. The Fig in Georgia. (2nd Report).
Georgia Experiment Station Bulletin 77.