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Introduction

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» The fig - The Tree of Life - The Tree of Knowledge, Good and Evil - The Sacred Tree - The Tree of Heaven - The Holy Tree. The fruit of the gods. The Queen of fruits. Just some of the names given by many cultures around the world.

» Considered by many historians as the actual tree of which the fruit was forbidden to be eaten in the Garden of Eden and not the Apple tree as believed by most.

» No other fruit has more history, stories, folklore and mystique than the fig. The fig is the oldest cultivated fruit by man; dating back to at least 5000 B.C.

» The fig is mentioned various times in the scriptures of most of the world's religions. There is plenty of very interesting information available on the internet and it is worth looking into it further!

» The fig tree is associated with fertility, health, peace and abundance. Many believe that planting a fig tree will help with these virtues.

» The common fig (Ficus carica) is a small deciduous tree or large shrub with three of five deeply lobbed fragrant, hairy leaves.

» All parts of the fig contains a white latex-like sap called fig milk.

» The tree produces edible fruit. The "false" fruit is actually a hollow ended stem containing many small flowers.

Origin of Figs

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» The botanical name for the common edible fig is Ficus carica and it originated from the Mid east and Asia (Persia). It was quickly spread by humans to the Mediterranean and then to the rest of the world. Figs are accustomed to climates with long, hot, dry summers and cool winters.

» Since figs and pomegranates originate roughly from the same area, we like to see them respectively as the "Queen" and "King" of all fruits.

Types of Figs

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The original wild figs all needed to be pollinated by the fig wasp in order to set the fruit. This process is called Caprification and each fig species has its own unique fig wasp. Plenty of information are available on the internet about this very interesting process but we are going to skip it here. Over time, strains of figs were discovered that did not need Caprification and it is these figs that most gardeners grow today.

As figs spread throughout the world into different climate zones and growing conditions (as well as active breeding by man), different varieties and clones started to appear. Over a period of 5000 years more than a staggering 1000 varieties were created!
Figs(Ficus carica) are classified into four main groups:

Group 1: Smyrna figs
These figs need pollination by the fig wasp which in turn lives on the host fig tree (called a Capri fig). These type of figs are rarely grown in South Africa and only certain areas in the Western Cape (where the fig wasp can survive) are suitable to grow them. Figs pollinated by the fig wasp are called: "Caprified figs". Caprified figs are more superior in taste and quality than common figs and most are imported from Turkey and surrounding areas. It is interesting to note that these specific figs produce viable seeds that are able to germinate and produce new fig plants. This is the way that new cultivars are developed.

Group 2 : San Pedro
These figs have an early crop (called a breba crop) which produces figs without the need for pollination. The second crop however needs to be pollinated by the fig wasp otherwise all the small developing figs will drop from the tree.

Group 3 : Capri Figs
This is the host tree for the fig wasp. It has both male and female figs. The female wasp lays her eggs in the female figs. The wasp can only reproduce in Capri figs although it visits Smyrna and other figs in which eggs cannot be laid. Capri figs need to be planted close to Smyrna figs for succesful pollination (Caprification).

Group 4: Common figs
This group of figs is the most widely known and grown as they set figs without pollination and are called parthenocarpic figs. Common figs only have female figs but they can still be pollinated by fig wasps and produce viable seeds that can also germinate. The fig wasp, however, cannot lay her eggs in the figs as the flowers are too long.

Why Plant Figs

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Nothing beats the taste of a freshly picked fig from your own tree!
It is the fruit of the gods!

» Fresh figs are not readily available and rather expensive. Figs have poor shelf life and storage abilities and thus only the immediate surrounding areas can benefit from fresh figs. Furthermore, figs that are not picked fully ripe will not ripen further in storage.
» Many people believe that fig trees bring good luck.

» Figs are very rewarding,easy and fun to grow. They are tough and can survive a lot of neglect (at the expense of the fruit of course).

» Figs are waterwise and can withstand drought well. They love hot conditions and tolerate heat very well.

» They are one of the few fruit trees that grow exceptionally well in confined spaces, containers and pots.

» Figs have many health benefits (see special section for more information).

Figs used in landscaping

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We know this suggestion sounds a little crazy! We South Africans love our Tuscan styled houses and love planting olives, cypress trees, lavenders and rosemary to enhance the look but what about the most important one, namely, FIGS!!! This is as Mediterranean as you can get! You don't have to plant fig trees only in orchards. Make them part of your ornamental garden.

» Figs can look very effective pruned into Standards, small trees or planted into containers. Even in winter with no leaves on the bare, grey-white, twisted branches give a beautiful silhouette.

» Another great advantage is that fig leaves give off a strong, pleasant smell and the fruit also attracts birds
into your garden.

» One of the best varieties for use in landscaping is called "Parisienne or Bourjosotte Noir". It is a strong growing variety with beautiful fresh green leaves. Unfortunately, fig production is very poor on the highveld. Another beautiful ornamental variety is called "Tiger" and it has pretty yellow and green striped figs which are also edible.

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Health Benefits

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» Figs have one of the highest overall mineral content of all common fruit.

» Figs contain high levels of Calcium that helps strenghten your bones.

» Figs help to reduce hypertension and high blood pressure as they contain high levels of Potassium.

» Figs are great in aiding digestion and acts as a natural laxative as it contains high levels of dietary fibre.

» Antioxidants in figs help reduce the growth of cancer cells in the breast, colon and prostrate areas.

» Fig leaves are also edible and contains phenolic antioxidants that help reduce the risk of heart disease.

» Fig leaves and sap are also used to treat various skin disorders.

Warning

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» A small percentage of the population might show signs of allergy towards figs.

» The fig sap can be very irritating to some people's skin.

» Eating too many figs can cause diarrhoea.