Ficus carica

common fig


Ficus carica

L. 1753

pronounced: FY-kuss KAIR-ik-uh

(Moraceae — the fig family)


common name: common fig

Ficus is Latin for fig, and carica for a kind of dry fig. This is the edible fig, native to the Middle East.

It is a monoecious, deciduous tree, that was cultivated in ancient times from Afghanistan to Portugal. From about the 15th century onwards it was introduced into Northern Europe, including England, and to the New World.
The edible fig was one of the first plants to be cultivated by man in early Neolithic times (possibly 11,000 years ago), together with the grape (Vitis vinifera) and the olive (Olea europaea). In due course thousands of cultivars were developed and named as human migration brought the fig to places outside its natural range.

Ficus carica grows to a height of 10 m, with smooth grey bark and large, fragrant leaves. We read in the Bible (Genesis chapter 3) that Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to make aprons with which to cover their nakedness. The leaves are up to about 25 cm in length and 18 cm in width, deeply lobed with 3 or 5 lobes. The inflorescence is a hollow fleshy structure (syconium) lined with numerous unisexual flowers. The fig that we eat is the mature syconium containing numerous one-seeded fruits. It is usually 3-5 cm long with a green skin, often turning brown or purple as it ripens. Its pollinating wasp, which enters the fig via the 'ostiole' or 'eye', is Blastophaga psenes.

The fig is able to produce two crops a year. The first crop (the breva) develops in the spring on the former year’s growth, and the second, main, crop develops on this year’s new growth and ripens in late summer or in autumn. It usually is a larger crop, and of better quality, than the breva crop.

There are three main types of common fig varieties:

      • ‘caducous’ figs require pollination from the wasp to develop crops;
      • ‘persistent’ figs do not need pollination: fruits develop through parthenocarpic means, and there have been parthenocarpic varieties of figs since ancient times;
      • ‘intermediate’ figs do not need pollination to set the breva crop, but generally need pollination for the main crop.

Propagation is generally done by layering, air-layering, or striking woody shoots.

Most commercial production of figs is in dried or otherwise processed figs, as the ripe fruit does not transport well, or keep well after it is picked.
The caterpillars of several Lepidoptera species attack the tree, often by attacking the buds and new growth. These include:

      • the Pecan Stem Girdler Maroga melanostigma;
      • the Common Moonbeam Philiris innotatus;
      • the Figleaf Moth Talanga tolumnialis; and
      • the moth Phycomorpha prasinochroa.

The latex of fig fruit has been used in several traditional herbal medicines, most of them used to treat skin infections such as warts, and the leaves have long been used in remedies to treat haemorrhoids. The latex is believed to have antioxidant properties, and some claim that the fig has antibacterial and anticarcinogenic properties as well. Fig leaves are eaten in some cultures - it is believed that they have anti-diabetic properties.

The wood of the fig tree is very soft and has little figuring, and, although it can be used for woodturning, it can distort dramatically if turned thin. I have read the blogs of a number of woodturners who have experimented with this timber, and none of them admitted liking to work with it.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2012
Page last updated 30th December 2018