Fruit of the Month: Figs!

Its going to a Figgin’ Fantastic August! We are enjoying the heat and are eagerly waiting for our southland figs to ripen.

Background and History

The fig is native to the Middle East and western Asia, and is one of the oldest know fruit to man.  Mention of the fig dates back to 2500 B.C. and can be seen in text written on Sumerian stone tablets.  The fig was brought to Mexico in 1560 and established at the San Diego Mission in 1769.  By 1867 there were over 1,000 acres of fig trees in the Sacramento Valley and 35 acres in the San Joaquin Valley.

The fig is actually not a fruit, but a hollow-ended stem containing hundreds of inverted flowers.  It is referred to as a “false fruit” or “multiple fruit” in which the flowers and seeds grow together.  When you cut open a fig, what you are actually seeing are many individual fruits, each bearing a single seed inside.

If the fruit is female, the flowers do not require pollination.  However, if the flowers are both male and female, the fruit requires pollination by a specialized wasp.   This fertilization process, known as parthencarpy, is when a female wasp enters the fig through the scion and lays eggs in the flowers.  The male and female wasps pollinate the flowers, while the fruit provides a safe habitat and nourishment for the eggs and next generation of wasps.

Types and Characteristics

There are hundreds of varieties of figs ranging in color and size.  The most common fig varieties in Southern California include the Kadota, Brown Turkey, and Mission figs.

Kadota fig

The Kadota fig is a thick-skinned fig that has a few small seeds.  You can tell when the Kadota fig is ripe because the “eye” splits and the skin changes from an unripe avocado green to a soft lime green.  Since the figs remain green, birds end up ignoring these figs because they assume they are not ripe.  The fruit can be eaten fresh or processed.

Mission Fig

The Mission fig was named after the California Franciscan missions that have been cultivated since 1770.  You can tell when the Mission Fig is ripe because the skin will turn a very dark purple and the skin will begin to crack.  When dried, the color darkens to black. The fruit is moist and has a chewy texture.  The Mission fig is best eaten fresh, but can also be dried.

Brown Turkey

The Brown Turkey fig is a hardy tree that produces two crops each year in the summer and spring.  The tree can withstand cold temperatures that most fig varieties are unable to take.  The figs are a caramel-brown color with pink, reddish flesh.  You can tell when the Brown Turkey Fig is ripe because the skin will turn a deep purple and the skin will begin to crack.  The fruit is medium to large and the skin is sweet.  This fig can be eaten raw or processed.


You can harvest figs by hand or with garden shears.  When handpicking, lift the fig in the opposite direction that the fruit is drooping.  It is recommended to wear gloves when harvesting figs because of the latex that occurs in unripe fruits.  Figs do not ripen off the tree so pick figs when they are the ripest.

Figs do not have a long shelf life and will spoil within 7-10 days after harvesting.  After harvesting, wash and dry your fig and immediately store in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your refrigerator.   Figs can also be stored in the freezer whole for 10-12 months.


How to tell when your figs are ripe

Figs are ripe when the fruit is squishy to the touch, the stem snaps off when you pick it from the tree (rather than bending), and the fruit is sweet.  The best way to determine if the fruit is overripe is to smell the fig.  If the fruit smells sour, it has already begun to ferment.  Also, when figs are over ripe, the flesh begins to collapse inward.

Propagating and Care

Fig trees can be propagated through cuttings of mature wood 2-3 years of age.  In the fall and after the harvest, make a cutting from a low-growing branch.  Plant the branch in soil within 24 hours.

During the growing season, water your figs regularly to encourage more fruit production.  Ensure that you are watering evenly because excessive and inconsistent watering leads to splitting fruit.  When fall arrives stop watering.

Pruning is optional and is often used to remove dead wood.  If pruning, it is best to remove the oldest, largest stems in the spring every other year.

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1 thought on “Fruit of the Month: Figs!”

  1. Natalya says:

    I want to pick up some figs for my family to eat if you know where I can do that email me please

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