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The Fig (Ficus carica L.) is a fruit tree native to western Asia, introduced since time immemorial in the Mediterranean area. In Italy it is present both in specialized and affiliated form, especially in Puglia, Campania and Calabria.
It belongs to the Moraceae family, genus Ficus, species: Ficus carica L. It is a very drought-resistant plant and grows in the vine, olive and citrus regions. Not resistant to -10 ° C; fears water stagnation and loves fresh, deep and well-endowed soils with organic substance.
The species is present in two botanical forms that can simplistically be defined as male and female plants, given that the first (male plant, or caprifico) constitutes the individual who produces pollen with inedible fruits, while the second or true fig (plant female who produces edible fruits) produces the seeds contained in the fruits.
The domestic fig is characterized by a very expanded and superficial root system, robust trunk, with smooth grayish bark, which can reach 8 meters in height, weak branches, with terminal buds of pointed shape bearing tri-five-lobed, wrinkled leaves. In the armpit of those placed at the apex of the branch are inserted the flower buds which, by opening, give rise to an inflorescence, called syconium, formed by a fleshy receptacle, inside which only unisexual flowers are inserted, provided with a hole, called ostiolo, in position opposite to the insertion of the branch. The domestic fig has only long-styled female flowers and produces two types of fruit:
- fioroni or early figs: formed in autumn, they ripen in late spring of the following year and present sterile female flowers;
- real figs: they are formed in spring, ripen in late summer of the same year and bring fertile or sterile female flowers according to the variety.
The formation of the fruit can take place both by parthenocarpy and by fertilization; in the latter case, fertilization, called caprification, is ensured by the hymenoptera Blastophaga psenes.
In caprifico, on the other hand, there are both male and female flowers and, depending on the period, they can form:
- mothers (produced in winter with only aborted female flowers;
- profichi (produced in spring with aborted female flowers and male flowers near the ostiolo);
- mammons (they present inside sterile and fertile female flowers as well as male ones).
The achenes, that is the real fruits, are gathered in a fleshy syconium. The common edible fruit is the syconium of the only female cultivars. The shape is variable, from spherical flattened to piriform-elongated. The color of the peel is greenish-white and black.
Fig leaves (website photo)
Varieties and rootstocks
The domestic fig spreads both by cutting (using 2-3 year old branches) and by rooted sucker. It can be grafted if you want to change the variety (bud or crown graft).
The cultivars of the caprifico are a few dozen, while those of the domestic fig are several hundred. Many are very ancient, locally grown, and often little known. Unfortunately, cases of synonymies and homonyms are very common. Cultivars are classified according to:
- number of annual fruitings: unifere (they have only one main production, of "supplied"); bifere (they have an early production of fioroni, in addition to the main one); trifere, very little diffused (they have an early production, the main one and a late one).
- susceptibility to caprification: floricanes caprificabili (production provided through caprification); non-caprifiable monifers and bifere (production of flowers and supplied in the absence of caprification); intermediate double mullioned windows (capifiable for the supplied and fioroni by parthenocarpic way).
- ripening period: not variable for the fioroni (mid June-July); for the supplied (real figs) we distinguish early (ripening by August) and late cultivars (ripening from September onwards).
- skin color: white figs (green to greenish-yellow color); black or violet figs (with brown to violet or blackish-violet skin).
- production destination: for fresh consumption (all cultivars); for drying (cultivars characterized by early ripening, with the production of white products, intact, resistant and elastic skin, dense and sugary pulp).
The most representative in Italy are: different types of early fig (Columbri), Brogiotti (both white and black), the widespread Dottato, as well as Troiano, Fico Bianco del Cilento, Gentile, etc. Particularly suitable for drying are Dottato, Cilento White Fig, Farà and Taurisano.
In France, mainly Blanquette, Bourjassotte (white or black), Dauphine, Col de Dame, etc. are grown.
In Greece the most common is Izmir, very suitable for drying. In Portugal among others Lampeira, Lampa Preta, Pingo de mel Princesa. In Spain various types of Blanca, Negra, Coll de Dama, Napolitana are widespread. The latter, together with Pajajero and Martinenca, is suitable for drying.
Fig fruits (photo www.asperupgaard.dk)
The plant, generally, is carried out at the end of winter and is preceded by the supply of organic matter and phospho-potassic fertilizers.
The sixth planting varies from 6x6 m to 10x10 m depending on the nature of the soil and the vigor of the plant. After the implantation, it is capped at 1 meter and left to grow in free form.
Pruning, carried out in winter, must aim at eliminating badly arranged, dry and diseased branches, and any suckers. Fertilization can be done by resorting to green manure. The plant begins to produce around the 5th year from the plant, reaches its maximum production (40-60 kg of fruit) from 30 to 40 years and then gradually begins to have a lower yield; can survive up to 60 years and beyond.
Harvest period: first ten days of June (South) - beginning of August (North) for early cultivars; late July-late September (South) or October (North) for the main “supplied” cultivars; November to April for late cultivars "cimaruoli".
Great attention must be paid to identifying the best time for harvesting, given the poor shelf life of the fruits and the halting of the ripening processes after the detachment of the sycones.
Another delicate aspect concerns the manipulation of the syconia as they are very delicate, so during the harvest it is necessary to detach the fruit with the peduncle avoiding to tear the skin.
Fresh fruits can be refrigerated for 10-30 days (1-2 ° C and 90% R.H.).
The drying of the figs can be started on the tree or after the harvest. In conditions of good sunshine, the drying of the whole syconia is completed in 4-8 days in the first case; in the second case the figs cut lengthwise in two halves take 12-16 days to be dried. Drying in the stove is used to complete the process or to start it (this allows for a clearer product).
Since ancient times, fresh fig fruits have been used for fresh consumption and recently their nutritional value has been further enhanced (pectic substances prevent vein blockages, calcium is used for the production of baby milk, etc.). Figs are widely used as a dried product (combined with other dried fruit, flavored in various ways, coated with chocolate or glazed, etc.). Wild figs are also used to make caramelized figs, sweets, fruit salads and jams. It is also possible to obtain alcohol. The ficina is extracted from the leaves and used for pharmaceutical purposes.
In the kitchen, fig fruit is used naturally, dried, transformed into juice or syrup, as a side dish to ham or cheese, toasted and ground to substitute coffee, garnished with walnuts and almonds, to extract alcohol, etc.
The fig tree is very affected by climatic adversities, in particular by low temperatures and hail which can completely destroy production.
Damages can be caused by a virosis (mosaic) and by radical rot; some insects are harmful to insects, the fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) and the fig psylla (Homotoma ficus).