What is a Fig Tree?

Helga George

A fig tree is a member of the genus Ficus that grows as a tree. This is a huge group of plants that grows in the tropics and some temperate areas. They are an important part of the tropical ecosystem, and several are important religious symbols. The most well known fig is probably the common fig, F. carica, that is grown commercially for its delectable fruit. Other species of this genus are grown as houseplants or outdoor trees in warmer areas, such as the weeping fig, F. benjamina.


The common fig tree grows to between 23 and 33 ft (6.9 and 10m) tall, and should not be grown in small spaces. It has deeply lobed leaves — up to one foot long — with three to five lobes each, and latex that is irritating to human skin. What is commonly thought to be a fruit is actually a cluster of flowers and seeds surrounded by a rind. The development of fig fruits is quite complex.

Figs growing on the tree.
Figs growing on the tree.

There are two fig crops each year. The first is a breba, which is borne in the spring on the previous year’s growth. In some areas, the breba crop freezes and is lost. The second crop, which occurs later in the year, is the main crop.

Dried figs.
Dried figs.

There are several different types of fig varieties, which vary in their need for pollination. Some are highly specialized and require pollination by a small wasp, which crawls into the fruit through a small hole at the apex. Without the wasp, these cultivars will not bear any fruit. In contrast, others do not require pollination by the wasp, and will always produce fruit crops. Some of the best cultivars of the latter type are Celeste, and the brown fig tree, also known as Brown Turkey Fig.

The fig tree is mentioned in some religious texts, including the Koran.
The fig tree is mentioned in some religious texts, including the Koran.

The common fig tree prefers dryer, warm-temperate climates, such as the Mediterranean type. Trees that are fully dormant are hardy to between 12 and 15°F (-11 and -9°C). In colder climates, the trees should be planted against buildings or have a rack around them that can be covered with a heavy carpet. In northern climates, the fig is best grown as a container plant and brought indoors for the winter. The Brown Turkey Fig cultivar grows well in warmer climates, and is likely to re-grow after frost.

It is best to grow the common fig as a bush with three or four trunks, rather than as a tree. It should be pruned frequently, only when first planted. Once the fig has grown, however, it will generally not tolerate severe pruning every year. An exception is the Brown Turkey Fig, which requires heavy pruning after its main crop of fruit.

In dry climates, mature plants should be watered deeply once every one to two weeks. Full sun is best to get complete ripening of the fruit. Fertilization is unnecessary unless the trees are grown in pots or on sandy soils. Figs will not ripen if they are picked early, and they must be allowed to ripen on the tree. Cultivation is by cuttings.

In addition to the common fig’s contribution to the cuisines of the world, the tree has been of religious and mythological significance. It is mentioned in both the Christian Bible and the Koran. The fig is also mentioned in Greek mythology.

One of the most popular ornamental fig trees is the weeping fig tree. This attractive tree is named for its glossy, drooping leaves that are 2-5 in (6-13 cm) long. It is a popular houseplant in temperate areas and a large tree grown along roads in the tropics.

When grown indoors, the weeping fig prefers temperatures during the day of 75-85°F (23.9-29.4°C) and night temperatures of 60-70°F (15.6-21.1°C). It grows best in bright light and should be shaded from direct sun in the summer. The plant prefers to be watered thoroughly and then allowed to dry out.

In the tropics, the weeping fig can grow almost 100 ft (30.5 m) in height, but containment may be a problem. In climates such as the Mediterranean, the tree does not attain such great heights. It can be used as a topiary or hedge. The weeping fig is drought tolerant under these conditions, and can be grown in full sun.

The weeping fig is a versatile plant that can be grown in several interesting manners. It is a popular bonsai tree because the tree can be grown from cuttings, which can be intertwined to create patterns. The only major problem with this tree as a houseplant is that it tends to drop its leaves if stressed by drafts, heat, watering schedules, or changes in light conditions. The leaves generally re-grow, however.

Figs are highly popular around the Mediterranean, and feature prominently in that region's cuisine.
Figs are highly popular around the Mediterranean, and feature prominently in that region's cuisine.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - Well, I think most of the time fruit doesn't taste as good when it isn't picked ripe from the tree. I would recommend that people just grow their own figs. The trees grow really fast and they tend to produce a lot of fruit once they get going.

Alternatively, if you live in an area that has a good climate for figs there are sure to be a tree or two somewhere in town that produce more than the owners can use.


@pleonasm - I wish I had the space to grow them, because they are extremely expensive here. I've seen them sold for $40 a kilo or even more. I usually just end up eating canned or dried figs rather than getting fresh ones.

I've heard that they are really difficult to ship as fresh fruit, because they won't ripen once you pick them. Most fruit is picked before it ripens and then they ship it while it is still hard and isn't going to bruise. Then, it ripens once it gets to the destination. With figs you either have to take the risk that the soft fruit will be ruined by transport, or you have to sell it close to where it was picked.

I wish they would come up with some fig tree varieties that would ripen after they were picked.


Figs are so delicious. I just can't wait until the season for them each year, although I always end up eating so many that I burn my mouth. Unfortunately, they don't tend to be a commercial crop in my area, because not many people seem to realize how delicious they are, so I grow my own rather than rely on the supermarkets.

Post your comments
Forgot password?