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Fact sheet: Fig

 

History of Fig Cultivation

The fig (Ficus carica L; family Moracea) originated in the Old World Tropics—Asia Minor and the Mediterranean region. In the Mediterranean, the fig has been cultivated since as early as 5,000 BC.

The fig tree was first introduced to the Americas in 1575 by Spanish explorers in Florida. On the West Coast, in the area that eventually became the State of California, Spanish Franciscan missionaries introduced the cultivar, Mission, to the area that, in 1769, became the mission San Diego. Additional fig cultivars were also imported to the California area from Mediterranean countries, including Turkey.

Because some of the imported figs required pollination by the fig wasp (Blastophaga psenes), the absence of this wasp led to an initial failure of fig cultivation on the West Coast. This impediment to cultivation was remedied by the importation of the fig wasp.

The fruit of these fig cultivars had open “eyes” or ostioles (opening at the fruit apex) and were often attacked by insects and diseases. Scientists—including Ira J. Condit, William B. Storey, and others working on genetic improvement of figs—released new cultivars with closed eyes, cultivars that did not require pollination. Additionally, many fig cultivars were imported from the Old World within the last 50 years. Currently, however, no fig-breeding programs remain in the United States, and among at least 60–100 named cultivars of figs, relatively few are commonly grown in the southeastern United States.

Adaptation

The fig is adapted to dry, Mediterranean-type climates, such as California. The humid growing season in Florida is associated with enhanced insect and disease pressure, and rain can cause fruit to split. Fig cultivars do not require more than 100 hours of temperature of 45°F or less during the dormant season to promote normal vegetative and reproductive bud development. As a result, figs receive sufficient winter chilling in all areas of Florida except south. Fully dormant trees are hardy to about 15–20°F. Exposure of trees to low temperature preconditions can increase cold hardiness.

Fig trees that are not cold conditioned often sustain cold injury in Florida and in other parts of the southeastern United States. Fig trees grown in this region are frozen to the ground in some years and, consequently, will often have a bush-like growth habit after sprouting back from the roots.

Fact sheet: Fig

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