Hi, my name is Ian and I’m a figaholic (I’m obsessed with fig trees). So obsessed that in 2015 I went all the way to Cambodia to visit one of the oldest strangler figs ensnaring the ruins of the ancient civilization of Angkor Wat.
I have since undertaken a labor of love, starting my own seven-acre fig orchard in the Pacific Northwest. (I also have a healthy indoor collection of many of the more exotic tropical fig species that we humans love to use to liven up our homes).
During my journey to deepen my understanding of the fig tree, I uncovered 5 facts that made me even more obsessed.
Figs are not fruit at all but rather complex inverted flowers that both produce seeds and gestate the fig’s pollinator, the pollinator wasp.
Ripe figs helped to sustain our earliest human ancestors’ year-round. High energy figs may have helped to develop large brains. One theory suggests our hands evolved as tools to figure out which figs were soft (meaning sweet and rich in energy).
Figs are the only flowering plant that gestates their own pollinator, this liberates figs from the seasonal and range limitations of ordinary pollinators. For reasons too complex to explain in this blog, this adaptation means that figs are able to constantly generate a new crop of figs regardless of the day on the calendar.
Figs are a keystone species that support the entire web of life in the tropics. There is always a fig tree (more likely, multiple fig trees) with a ripe crop of fruit at any given time in a healthy and functioning tropical forest.
Fig trees can be used to reforest not only degraded agricultural lands, but even strip mines and other epic disaster zones. Volcanic ruins from centuries past have acted as laboratories proving that rainforests spring up around fig trees because of the influx of seed-dispersing animals they draw in. The snake-like and almost fluid roots of figs allow them to colonize even the bare rock of recent lava flows.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what makes the genus ficus so fascinating and worthy of our attention, awe, and indeed reverence. If I’ve piqued your interest in figs, I highly recommend the book, God’s, Wasps and Stranglers by Mike Shanahan. And, grow a fig tree!
If your fig tree is in trouble and you’d like to get it checked out, book an appointment and I’d be more than happy to help!