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Botany Photo of the Day
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Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'

Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'
Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'
Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'

Taisha is both the photographer and author of today's entry. She writes:

Today's photographs of Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey', or the 'Brown Turkey' common fig, were taken in UBC Botanical Garden's Food Garden. The Garden currently has two fig trees (the other is Ficus carica 'Desert King'). Both trees are espaliered, and currently in flower. 'Brown Turkey' and 'Desert King' are the two common fig cultivars traditionally considered able to withstand Vancouver's climate, but some gardening experts suggest perhaps six different cultivars may be able to endure the warming winters of British Columbia's southern coast (see: Changing weather and changing crops on south coast via the Vancouver Sun).

The first memorable time I encountered figs was while traveling in Morocco where I saw many fig trees, and also ate quite a bit of the dried fruit purchased from vendors at market stalls in the medinas. They were often displayed in baskets or hanging on strings right on the edge of the small pathways, and consequently were covered in a layer of dust. Nevertheless, they were still tasty.

This deciduous shrub or small tree species belongs to the Moraceae (the mulberry or fig family) and is thought to be native specifically to southern Arabia (ref: Janick and Paull's The Encyclopedia of Fruit & Nuts), but many references will instead state it is native to western Asia and the Mediterranean. Due to a long history of cultivation, Ficus carica is considered an ancient fruit (PDF). This is likely the reason for the uncertainty about its native distribution. Figs are cultivated globally in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates. Modern-day production is over one million metric tons (2006 data).

Exceptional specimens of Ficus carica have attained heights of 12m (ref: Janick and Paull), but more typical heights in cultivation are 5 to 8m. Plants have large, palmate and hairy 3-5-lobed leaves attached to silvery-barked branches. The shiny receptacle or synconium houses the small green flowers, which are invisible unless this infructescence is opened (as in the first photograph). Wayne Armstrong's always-excellent teaching site explains the life-cycle of Ficus carica (scroll down to the section titled "Summary of the Ficus carica Life Cycle"), but note also that he concludes his discussion with mention that 'Brown Turkey' is parthenocarpic. Unlike the natural species which requires a fig-wasp (Blastophaga psenes) to pollinate, the fruits of 'Brown Turkey' will ripen without pollination.

Fig fruits are considered an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and fibre, as well as being fat- and cholesterol-free. According to R. Veberic et al., a study of some cultivars grown in Slovenia's coastal region also demonstrated that the fruits contained phenolic substances associated with positive effects on human health, such as antioxidant effects and possible prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer (see: Veberic, R. et al. 2008. Phenolic acids and flavonoids of fig fruit (Ficus carica L.) in northern Mediterranean region. Food Chemistry. 106:153-157).

8 Comments

Medicinally, you can use the white sap from fig trees to cure warts. It was an old home remedy in Italy, and I remember seeing an Italian study a few years ago to test it. When you pick a fig or a leaf from the tree, you can see the white sap and you smear it on your wart, let it dry, probably for several days in a row. The study compared using the fig sap to whatever it is they use in a doctor's office to dissolve a wart, and also to doing nothing. The fig sap worked almost as well as the official remedy, and much better than doing nothing. So those old Italian grandmothers knew their stuff!

Ah, how well I remember the fig tree in the back garden of my childhood in New Zealand ... it was a marvelous climbing tree for a little girl: the tricky bit was getting down again. Then the cry for "Daaaddyyyy!" but only AFTER I'd eaten my fill of those divine fresh figs first, of course! And he wouldn't get me down till he'd eaten a few himself ... We never knew the variety; it was already an established tree in 1953. When I drove past not long ago, I think it was still there. The ripe figs were never more than green flushed pink, and the flowers inside were a warm pink, not dark red. Great days.

Figs were ubiquitous growing up in SoCal. Not only was the fruit delicious and readily available at different times during the year, but the sap from plucked leaves also provided the forerunner of the current use of tattoos to disfigure one's flesh. As tweeners we demonstrated our true love and manliness (or vice versa) by scratching our loved one's initials into our skin and rubbing the scratches with sap. The scratches, of course, festered, scabbed over, healed, and left a forever scar of the initials. I've always been thankful that I had only one true love during that stage of my life.

The Old Fig Tree seems to be a nostalgia inducer. I grew up in the Sacramento Valley of California, with its Mediterranean climate. The fig trees were immense and very messy, as fruit-loving birds would peck at and dislodge the squishy fruit. The long limbs of the mature tree would arch to the ground, making a shady hide-out in the summer heat. The truly ripe fruit was like a tidy packet of jam. Gorging on too many might make the lining of your mouth sore. The Mission was the common, small black fig, while the Brown Turkey was favored for the size of the fruit and its beautiful coloring. The green Kadota always seemed too firm and not sweet enough. Fig trees emit their distinctive appealing odor even when the tree is not in fruit.

Thanks very much for these great photos and all the information about the "Brown Turkey" Taisha. The comments are great too!

Cheers,
Judy


Fascinating entry. As other correspondents note, fig trees always bring back memories. As a child I found it difficult to understand how something so exotic (to me) could grow in cold England.
This side of the pond we would call your tree fan trained. Our espaliers have horizontal branches. We also have a popular belief that the roots must be confined for an abundant crop of fruit. Whether that is true or not, I have no idea.

i am from the usa nabisco fig newton cookies the nice soft ones
were part of my growing up days family fig lovers

thank you i enjoy when a certain bot a day invokes memories
the past its fun to share thank you all

We have a brown fig tree in Eugene OR which produces figs yearly. The second crop and the largest is often killed by early frosts. The first crop served with yogurt and honey is a delight.
We are always puzzled about the best time to prune back the rapidly developing branches.Ideas. Eleanor

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