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Fig Fact Sheet

  • Family: Moraceae (mulberry)
  • Genus: Ficus
  • Commercially important species:
    Ficus carica subgenus Eusyce (only member of genus cultivated for fruit)
  • Description: deciduous tree; subtropical; soft, pithy wood; bark is generally smooth and free of fissures, however 'burrknots' often occur on lower trunk and roots, nodal swellings form under and on both sides of leaf scars; leaves are large, petiolate, 3-7 lobed to almost entire (leaves aid in cultivar identification); bears morphologically unusual fruit called 'syconium' which is almost entirely vegetative peduncular tissue (true fruits are tiny pedicellate druplets within); Gynodioecious with two distinct forms: monoecious nonedible capri fig which serves as a pollenizer, and a pistillate edible fig; pollination achieved by fig wasp (Blastophaga psenes L.), which colonizes the syconium of the capri fig in a symbiotic relation; lateral bearing; 5-year generation time.
  • Origin: Southern Arabia (native to semi-desert regions.
  • History of cultivation: Millennia
  • Current major production area: California ranks second after Turkey, and ahead of Spain, Greece and Portugal. Production from 1996 was 14,000 tons.
  • Site requirements: Semi-desert. Cultivation limited by winter cold more than summer heat; low relative humidity (<25%); intense light; high summer temps. (32-37 C); moderate winters (temps. <-1 C are limiting); avoid late fall rains (damages fruit); spring winds interfere with wasp pollination and produce scarred fruit.

Cultivation in California

  • History: Spread with Franciscan Missionaries. First figs planted in California in 1769 in the gardens on the mission at San Diego. In the 1850s, American settlers imported a wide variety of figs from the east coast and Europe which led to the first established orchards. By 1867 there were over 1000 acres (400 ha.) in the Sacramento Valley.
  • Yield: varies with cultivar from 1.25-3.7 t/ha (industry average)
  • Cultivars: Smyrna (Calimyrna, only prominent Smyrna type);Common: Kadota, Mission, Conadria, White Adriatic.
  • Rootstocks: None in use; all varieties own-rooted.
  • Propagation: Young figs are gown from rooted cuttings.
  • Spacing: 30-40 ft. on the square (old spacing: Mission orchards). 20-22 ft. square for newer varieties. 15-30 ft. hedgerows.
  • Irrigation: On level ground: flooding and furrow are used; on level areas, sprinklers and drippers are used.
  • Training System: modified open-center system.
  • Nutrition: Nitrogen is the only nutrient applied regularly (2.2-2.5% of the dry leaf weight); 20-40 lbs/acre nitrogen is an average application rate. Other nutritional deficiencies are rare. Figs are more likely to suffer toxicities from sodium, boron, or chloride.
  • Harvesting: Edible fig cultivation may produce 1 to 2 crops per year. A small amount of figs are marketed fresh, these are hand picked. Most figs are harvested as a dried crop. These are allowed to dry on the tree and fall to the ground. Dried figs are mechanically swept into windrows and collected. Harvests are repeated at 2-3 week intervals, fumigated, and sun dried or dehydrated to 17% moisture or less.
  • Marketing: The California Fig Marketing Order determines grade and quality. Marketing depends on the variety: Calimyrna are used for dried fruit or paste: Kadota and Adriatic are used primarily for paste; Mission figs are used for dried fruit, paste or juice of concentrate. California produces 100% of domestic dried figs.

Prepared by Steven Soby 1995, updated 1997