Fig Trees, Facts & Detailed Information on the Fig Tree Species
Here is some general information on the fig tree.
Ficus is a genus of about 850 species of woody trees, shrubs, vines, epiphytes, and hemiepiphyte in the family Moraceae. Collectively known as fig trees or figs, they are native throughout the tropics with a few species extending into the semi-warm temperate zone. The Common Fig (F. carica) is a temperate species native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region (from Afghanistan to Portugal), which has been widely cultivated from ancient times for its fruit, also referred to as figs. The fruit of most other species are also edible though they are usually of only local economic importance or eaten as bushfood. However, they are extremely important food resources for wildlife. Figs are also of considerable cultural importance throughout the tropics, both as objects of worship and for their many practical uses.
Ficus is a pan-tropical genus of trees, shrubs and vines occupying a wide variety of ecological niches; most are evergreen, but some deciduous species are endemic to areas outside of the tropics and to higher elevations. Fig species are characterized by their unique inflorescence and distinctive pollination syndrome, which utilizes wasp species belonging to the Agaonidae family for pollination.
The specific identification of many of the species can be difficult, but figs as a group are relatively easy to recognize. Many have aerial roots and a distinctive shape or habit, and their fruits distinguish them from other plants. The fig fruit is an enclosed inflorescence, sometimes referred to as a syconium, an urn-like structure lined on the inside with the fig's tiny flowers. The unique fig pollination system, involving tiny, highly specific wasps, known as fig wasps that enter these closed inflorescences to both pollinate and lay their own eggs, has been a constant source of inspiration and wonder to biologists. Finally, there are three vegetative traits that together are unique to figs. All figs possess a white to yellowish sap (latex), some in copious quantities; the twig has paired stipules or a circular stipule scar if the stipules have fallen off; and the lateral veins at the base of the leaf are steep, forming a tighter angle with the midrib than the other lateral veins, a feature referred to as a "tri-veined".
Figs are keystone species in many rainforest ecosystems. Their fruit are a key resource for some frugivores including fruit bats, capuchin monkeys, langurs and mangabeys. They are even more important for some birds. Asian barbets, pigeons, hornbills, fig-parrots and bulbuls are examples of taxa that may almost entirely subsist on figs when these are in plenty. Many Lepidoptera caterpillars feed on fig leaves, for example several Euploea species (Crow butterflies), the Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus), the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), the Brown Awl (Badamia exclamationis), and Chrysodeixis eriosoma, Choreutidae and Copromorphidae moths.
The wood of fig trees is often soft and the latex precludes its use for many purposes. It was used to make mummy caskets in Ancient Egypt.
Figs have figured prominently in some human cultures. There is evidence that figs, specifically the Common Fig (F. carica) and Sycamore Fig (F. sycomorus), were among the first if not the very first plant species that were deliberately bred for agriculture in the Middle East, starting more than 11,000 years ago. Nine subfossil F. carica figs dated to about 9400 to 9200 BC were found in the early Neolithic village Gilgal I (in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho). These were a parthenocarpic type and thus apparently an early cultivar. This find predates the cultivation of grain in the Middle East by many hundreds of years.
Many are grown for their fruits, though only Ficus carica is cultivated to any extent for this purpose. Furthermore, the fig fruits, important as both food and traditional medicine, contain laxative substances, flavonoids, sugars, vitamins A and C, acids and enzymes. However, figs are skin allergens, and the sap is a serious eye irritant. The fig is a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass. The genus Dorstenia, also in the figs family (Moraceae), exhibits similar tiny flowers arranged on a receptacle but in this case the receptacle is a more or less flat, open surface.
Depending on the species, each fruit can contain up to several hundred to several thousand seeds.
There is typically only one species of wasp capable of fertilizing the flowers of each species of fig, and therefore plantings of fig species outside of their native range results in effectively sterile individuals. For example, in Hawaii, some 60 species of figs have been introduced, but only four of the wasps that fertilize them have been introduced, so only four species of figs produce viable seeds there. This is an example of mutualism, in which each organism (fig plant and fig wasp) benefit each other, in this case reproductively.
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