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Photo: Black Mission figs, one of the most important fig varieties, are shown here. Link to photo information
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Unique Figs Featured in California Collection

By Marcia Wood
August 1, 2002

The figs most familiar to us make a dark, rich and sweet filling for fig bars or other baked goodies. But figs come in many other colors and flavors. Commercially grown figs and their exotic, rare and oddball botanic cousins from around the world are safeguarded at a special orchard in northern California. These figs and specimens of more than a dozen other crops make up a genebank known as the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Fruit and Nut Crops, headquartered at Davis.

One of the most distinctive figs at the genebank is Violette de Bordeaux. Purple-skinned with brilliant-red flesh, this outstanding fig is loaded with aroma and tastes like superb raspberry jam, according to curator Charles J. Simon at Davis.

Violette de Bordeaux is one of more than 100 different kinds of figs growing at the genebank's orchard at Winters, Calif., about 30 minutes from Davis. The trees range from one to 20 years old and two to 20 feet tall. Most are very handsome with smooth, silvery-grey bark and twisted limbs that give them a somewhat sculptured look. The leaves are usually large, and most are attractively lobed.

Most of the trees are specialty varieties of edible Ficus carica figs. In all, the repository ranks as one of the world's largest living assortments of edible figs.

The fig collection is part of a nationwide network of ARS-managed genebanks that preserve seeds, cuttings and other plant specimens. The California genebank ensures that the genes of these figs and their wild relatives don't get lost as new varieties replace older, heirloom ones. Who uses the collection? Fig breeders, researchers, and nursery managers interested in finding figs suitable for their climates and customers.

More details about the fabulous figs are reported in the August 2002 issue of the agency's Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief research branch.

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