ficus carica-fig tree

Uncovering 10+1 Secrets of the Fig Tree: A Garden Treasure

  Most of us in Greece remember that there was always at least one fig tree in the neighbourhood where we played as children. So, agriculturists and non-agriculturists alike, we know how to identify this tree, even in winter when its leaves have fallen. For others, summer is synonymous with company, the sea, a cool glass of water and a plate of figs.

  1. Historical facts

   The fig tree has existed in Europe since prehistoric times, symbolising fertility. From ancient times, the fig tree was worshipped as the tree of Dionysus, while the ‘Vasilika’ variety was cultivated in Attica. Later, it was the first tree mentioned in the Bible (7,000 BC in Jericho). The oldest fig tree on the planet is found in Sri Lanka and is estimated to be about 2 300 years old. Its name is ‘Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi’ and it belongs to the variety Ficus religiosa. Legend has it that under this tree the Buddha found enlightenment.

     Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, ficus religiosa   Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Sri Lanka

    2. Features

   The fig tree, or Ficus carica, belongs to the family Moraceae and is one of the most popular deciduous trees. It can live successfully for many decades. It reaches a height of 7 metres, with its crown creating a rounded shape. Its trunk has a characteristic smooth textured grey colour. The leaves are large, heart-shaped, with 3 to 5 lobes, dark green in colour. The upper part of the foliage has a smooth texture, while the lower part is covered with small fuzz. The fig makes its first appearances in April, being initially very small, sometimes green and sometimes purple. It then grows and acquires that sweet and juicy taste. The harvest period is June, with the so-called ‘fracasanes’, and August-September, when the real, edible figs are produced. In all seasons the figs can be eaten dried, while in the summer months they can also be eaten fresh. Dried figs are 3 times more nutritious than fresh figs.

    3. Varieties

   Figs, as many people believe, are not fruits, but inflorescences, inside of which are small flowers, which then turn into tiny hard fruits (inflorescences). In nature there are wild figs (male figs) whose figs are not edible and tame figs (female figs) whose figs are edible. But let’s take a look at the most well-known varieties that are edible:

  • Vasilika (black and white)
  • Markopoulou (black)
  • Kalamon (white)
  • Kymis (white)
  • Argalasti (white)
  • Politiko (white)
  • Fracasanes (white)
  • while the foreign ones are Alfiore, Brazilliana, Dauphine, Dottato, Mission and San piero.
     infructescence of fig tree
  1. The conditions in which it thrives

   The fig tree thrives very easily in the Greek garden. It prefers warm climates, but it can also thrive without much care in mountainous areas if the right variety is chosen. It has no problem with any type of soil, even calcareous soils, except for very clayey soils, which retain very large amounts of water. On the contrary, the soils that prefers are rich, light soils with good drainage. It is particularly resistant to drought and salinity.

  1. Irrigation

   The fig tree carries a high resistance to water shortage. Mature fig trees, when available, should be watered every 15 days, and once a week in the summer, in order to ensure satisfactory fruiting. Often, lack of water can lead to hollow fruit, while excessive moisture can lead to splitting of figs (cracking).

  1. Fertilization

   If we want rich fruiting for our fig tree, all we have to do is fertilize it with well-digested manure, which we will incorporate into the soil in winter. In this way, our tree will get all the organic matter and nitrogen it needs.

  1. Pruning

   The fig tree generally does not tolerate severe pruning , which is why it is often left in its natural shape. However, if pruning is desirable, it is advisable with the first pruning from planting to give it an open cup shape, with the branching of the arms starting low. In this way, it will be easy to harvest. The work of pruning shaping in the fig tree is done for warm regions in January-February, and for cold regions in March. Fruit pruning is also done at the same time, and is very light, as the fig tree does not require much intervention. The tops of the branches should not be cut off, as that is where new fruit will form. Finally, do not forget to apply a special paste to the large pruning cuts.

  1. Diseases

   One of the pests of the fig tree can be the so-called fig scab or wax moth, the flea, the black fig flies and the Mediterranean fly. Root knot nematodes may also cause problems, while fungi of the genera Phytophthora, Penicillium, Botrytis and Fusarium are common causes of fig tree deterioration.

    9. Health benefits

   Figs are rightly considered a superfood and are ideal for children and sickly bodies. They contain numerous nutrients such as vitamins B1, B2, A, E, K, minerals and the most fibre of any fruit. Thus, they prevent heart disease (drop in triglycerides in the blood), help build bone density, preventing osteoporosis, due to the increased calcium and potassium they contain, and also help in cases of constipation. Dried figs in particular have more than three times the nutritional value of fresh figs and are considered to be comparable to raisins and other high-calorie products. Furthermore, a property of figs that is not known to the general public is that they increase the sense of pleasure (increase dopamine in the brain).

  1. Use in architecture

   The fig tree is one of the best choices for a garden, even a luxurious one. Aesthetically it gives a rustic and country look, as well as being a focal point because of the shade it provides for the summer months. As mentioned above, it is a tree with a strong resistance to salinity, which makes it a favorite among landscape architects and agronomists who undertake projects on islands and dryland gardens. As for where to plant it, it is best avoided too close to buildings and walkways, as it carries a strong surface root system. 

  1. Delta Tip

   We have all heard the word ”sycophant”, ”slander” etc., but what is not known is that this word comes from fig + seem, i.e., to reveal. So, in ancient Greece, because the fig tree was considered very valuable as a sweetener, along with honey, penalties were imposed on those caught stealing them. So, there were people who would expose them and they were called ‘fig-fans’. Of course, there was no shortage of ”sycophants” who, out of revenge, denounced people who had not done any kind of theft, and that is why the word has gone down in history as someone who unjustly and deliberately accuses someone.

   For more information about Mediterranean trees here