Submitted to: HortScience
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/7/2006
Publication Date: 8/1/2007
Citation: Stover, E.W., Aradhya, M.K., Crisosto, C., Ferguson, L. 2007. The fig: overview of an ancient fruit. HortScience. Volume 42: pages 1083-1087
Interpretive Summary: The genus Ficus includes species ranging in number from 600 to more than 1900, with most found in the tropics or subtropics and only a handful with fruits considered edible (reviewed in Condit, 1969). The cultivated fig, Ficus carica L., (Moraceae) is clearly of greatest importance as a source of human food. The fig fruit has long been associated with horticulture in the Mediterranean region (Zohary and Spiegel-Roy, 1975) and is considered to have “first brought into cultivation in southern Arabia” (Storey, 1975). Wild or “nearly wild” figs are reported throughout much of the Mid-East and Mediterranean region (De Candolle, 1886). Cultivated figs are reported to have become established across the Mediterranean region around 6000 years ago, reaching England by 500 A.C.E. (Ferguson et al., 1990). Interestingly, the fossil record shows a pre-historic distribution of Ficus carica across southern Europe (De Candolle, 1886).
Technical Abstract: The fig (Ficus carica) appears to have originated in western Asia and became established throughout the Mediterranean region around 6000 years ago, reaching England by 500 A.C.E. Naming of desirable fig cultivars is recorded as early as the 4th century B.C. Even after eliminating suspected synonyms, the most recent fig monograph describes 607 named fruit producing cultivars. However, the California fig industry, which was 5100 hectares in 2005, is essentially based on five cultivars. Even though most of world’s figs are eaten fresh, their fragility has demanded that fresh figs are largely consumed where they are produced. Due to their high sugar content and stability, most fig exports are as dried fruit. Reflecting this fact, 94% of California fig production is dried or otherwise processed. The fig “fruit” is a composite formed of fused stem tissue inclosing hundreds of individual fruitlets. Four types of figs are described based on cropping/pollination characteristics. Fruiting cultivars produce only functionally female flowers but vary in their degree of parthenocarpy. The type known as “common figs” is highly parthenocarpic and requires no pollination to set a commercial crop. As the name suggests, a high proportion of fig cultivars (78% of those listed by Condit) are of this type. The type known as San Pedro types will set a first crop, known as “breba” fruit, parthenocarpically, but require pollination to set the main crop. Smyrna types require pollination for significant fruit production. Pollen is provided by the fourth type, the functionally male caprifig, with pollen carried by a unique wasp which has coevolved with the fig. As a complement to the rich pleasures of dried figs and their products, there is a great deal of interest in expanding fresh fig sales in the U.S. This will require significant post-harvest technology development and may require selection or even development of appropriate cultivars. Based on our experience , the potential customer base for fresh figs is very large. Visitors to the US national fig collection are astounded by varieties with bright fruity flavors, some reminiscent of berries or citrus, intermarried with a succulence unique to the fig.