one of the oldest cultivated fruit crops. Some
indications are that they were first cultivated about
11,000 years ago. They have been with mankind through
all of our civilized history. The Bible speaks of figs
Figs are believed to have originated in south-central
Asia and spread to the Mediterranean basin to the Greeks
and Romans. From there they spread to Spain. Of course,
when the Spanish came to Texas the padres brought fig
plants to their missions. The Spanish fig that was
brought to California and Texas was a variety that was
later called Mission. It is still a significant variety
The common fig is a member of the Ficus genus from the
Moraceae family (which includes mulberries). Ficus is a
rather large genus containing more than 2,000 tropical
and semi-tropical plants. The only Ficus that are
cultivated for their fruit are the Ficus carica
(the common fig) and Ficus sycomorus (the
sycamore fig of Egypt). There are also a few hybrids
with other members of the Ficus genus.
The fruit we all call the fig is not a fruit in the true
sense of the word. Figs are an enlarged, fleshy and
hollow stem bearing closely massed tiny flowers on their
inner wall. When you eat a fig you are eating the
container that holds the true fruit. The "seed" inside
the fig are not seed at all but fruit that failed to
There are two basic kinds of figs — caprifigs and edible
figs. Caprifigs are male figs which produce pollen and
are not good to eat. There are three important classes
of edible figs: 1. caducous — Smyrna figs: Need to be
pollinated to mature fruit. Without pollination the
fruit will drop before it matures. Smyrna figs must be
grown in the presence of Caprifigs and pollinating
insects to bear fruit. 2. intermediate — San Pedro figs:
Do not need to be pollinated to set a breba (first) crop
but do need pollination to set the main crop. 3.
persistent — common figs: Do not need to be pollinated
to bear fruit. This is what is referred to as the common
garden fig and the subject of this article.
Figs have been grown by Texans since the early history
of our state. When settlers came to Texas they brought
figs with them or got "starts" from the missions. Figs
grow extremely well in our coastal areas and can be
grown anywhere in Texas with proper care.
In the North, Far West and the Panhandle, protection
from cold winter winds is needed. Irrigation is needed
in the drier parts of our state. Even though figs can
stand very dry conditions, they will not fruit unless
they receive sufficient moisture.
There are more than 700 varieties of common garden figs.
Of this large number only a few are varieties that can
be grown and fruited successfully with good fruit
quality in Texas. Here are the most favored varieties
grown in Texas.
'Brown Turkey' An old time favorite, 'Brown
Turkey' is a medium-small fig with a violet-brown skin
and reddish-amber colored pulp. The fruit are tear-drop
shaped. The pulp has a very sweet but not too rich
taste, not quite as rich as 'Celeste.' It has a small,
nearly closed eye which is reddish in color from the
very early stages of fruit development. It fruits on new
wood (growth); so if you have an exceptionally cold
winter and the plant gets killed to the ground, the
plant will probably grow back and may even produce a
crop the same year. It produces two crops a year with
good cultural conditions, one in late May-June and
another in late September to early November. It has a
broad-spreading tree shape. The leaves have five lobes
as opposed to the three-lobed leaves of many figs.
'Texas Everbearing' With this variety there are a
lot of conflicting opinions. Some say it is the same
variety as 'Brown Turkey' and some say that it is
similar but not the same variety. My experience is that
it is a different variety, although somewhat similar.
There are three differences - the flesh is more amber in
color as opposed to the reddish-amber of the 'Brown
Turkey' pulp, the leaves have three lobes as opposed to
the five lobes of 'Brown Turkey' and the shape of the
tree is more upright instead of broad-spreading. 'Texas
Everbearing' is a slightly better fig in my opinion than
'Brown Turkey' for many areas of Texas. It has the same
cold hardiness and the fruit are nearly the same in
taste. It bears well and with good growing conditions
will bear two crops a year. The early crop (breba crop)
ripens in late May to late June and the second crop in
late September to early November.
'Black Mission' Best grown in the southern part
of our state, 'Black Mission' is a large fig with
purple-black skin and light strawberry pulp. It has a
heavy first crop (breba) in early summer and average
main crop which ripens in late fall. A very vigorous
growing fig but not very cold hardy. It has some
problems with leaf mosaic but it does not seem to affect
the fruit. It is one of the better figs for areas of
Texas with mild winters. Its large size and rich taste
make it a premium fig. Good either fresh or dried.
'Alma' A variety developed by the Agricultural
Experiment Service of Texas A&M University. A cross of
the variety 'Allison' and a male 'Hamma' caprifig, it
was introduced in 1975. It is a medium-small fig that
has golden-brown skin with a pear shape and amber pulp.
The pulp is very rich and sweet. The eye of 'Alma' is
naturally sealed with a drop of resin that prevents
problems with insects and fruit spoilage. A moderately
vigorous variety, it is very productive and comes into
bearing early in its life. 'Alma' has one small problem.
It is little less cold hardy than some varieties,
especially when young. Once established, the trees are
more cold hardy. It grows well in Texas coastal areas as
well as South-Central and South Texas. This variety can
become a little weedy so it needs some pruning at times
to produce good crops.
'Celeste' A medium-small fig with a purple-brown
skin and very light pink pulp. It has a small closed eye
which inhibits the entry of insects and helps prevent
fruit spoilage. The eye remains green until the fig is
nearly ripe, unlike 'Brown Turkey' and 'Texas
Everbearing.' It is an excellent small fig, one of the
better figs for the eastern and northern parts of Texas.
It does not seem to do as well in drier areas, such as
West and South Texas. This is the most cold hardy of
this group of figs, but when it comes to hot weather it
will suffer a little unless it is kept watered.
'Celeste' does not have an early (breba) crop, only the
main crop that usually starts ripening in late July.
'Kadota' The commercial variety in California.
This is a variety mainly for coastal areas of South
Texas. It is a high quality fig with greenish-white skin
and amber pulp. The pulp is rich and sweet. This is the
common canned or dried fig of commerce. It requires heat
to develop its best flavor. The eye is open but it is
filled with resin that prevents damage from insects and
fruit spoilage. It takes two years to recover from being
killed to the ground. The fruit becomes rubbery in very
dry, hot areas.
'Blue Giant' A fig developed in Texas by private
interests that has extra large figs with purple skin and
amber pulp. It is good fresh or dried. The best growing
area for this fig is not yet known, but it does grow
well around San Antonio. It is not quite hardy enough
for North-Central and North Texas and should be limited
to southeast coastal areas and South Texas. This is one
of the best fig selections if you live in these
warm-winter areas, being such a nice, large fig.
Being a subtropical species, figs prefer a
Mediterranean-like climate with hot, dry summers and
mildly cool, wet winters. Many of the fig varieties are
only cold hardy down to 15ø or 20øF, but there are a few
varieties that will stand temperatures down to 10øF.
Many of the figs in northern areas of Texas are planted
near a wall or fence that helps protect them from cold
My great aunt had several fig bushes growing alongside
the "car shed" on her farm outside the small town of
Star, Texas, many, many years ago. The fig "bushes"
yielded quarts and quarts of figs that she canned. I can
remember, as a small boy, going to her house with the
expectation of fig preserves with homemade biscuits and
fresh farm butter, a real treat. In those days (more
than 50 years ago) they had a windmill that fed a
storage tank that in turn fed into the house. The
overflow from the windmill ran to the area of the figs,
so they got plenty of water. The "car shed" provided
protection from cold winter winds for her fig "bushes."
The point of this is that figs need plenty of water to
fruit well and some winter protection in many parts of
Figs trees when fully mature are about the same height
as width and they can reach 15 or 20 feet high with the
same spread. So plan accordingly. Usually they will have
four to six primary trunks branching off near or below
ground level from the crown. These primary trunks can
each be 6 inches in diameter in a large, older tree.
Soil. The best soil for figs is a well drained
loam with plenty of organic matter, but they will grow
in less than ideal soil. They prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to
6.5 but will grow on soils with a pH of 5.5 to 8.0.
Getting them established is the hardest part of growing
figs. Sometimes you have to plant twice to get a bush
going. So do not despair if the first attempt is not
Sun. Figs need plenty of sun. If you plant them
next to a wall or solid fence, make sure that they get
at least 7 to 8 hours of full sun a day in the growing
Water. Figs and water go together, but not too
much water. The main thing is to keep the soil moist,
but not wet constantly. This water can come from
rainfall or irrigation but just test the soil at least 2
inches below the surface for soil moisture and irrigate
as necessary. Heavy rain or standing water can cause the
fruit to split and spoil, and if water stands on the
plants for long periods it can cause the plants to die.
Fertilizer. Compost and well-rotted mature are
the very best fertilizer for fig trees, but commercial
fertilizers can be used. Apply a balanced fertilizer
about three times a year - spring, early summer and
mid-summer. On a medium-sized tree apply 2 to 3 cups of
a balanced fertilizer in a circle from about a foot from
the trunks to the drip line, and then work it into the
soil. Do not apply any fertilizer in the fall as it can
cause the trees to put on new growth when the plant is
nearing the first frost, causing damage. Caution: Do not
use any fertilizer the first year after planting; let
the trees get established first.
Planting. If you are growing your figs in a row,
plant the trees 15 to 20 feet apart. Prune your new
plants back a little when you plant them. It is better
to plant them a little deeper than they were growing in
the nursery, about 2 to 3 inches deeper. The best
planting time for bare-root plants is in the late winter
- late January and February. Potted plants can be
planted any time.
Pruning. Figs should be pruned very little except
for varieties like 'Kadota' and 'Black Mission,' which
require some pruning. If your tree becomes weedy, prune
it to shape it up. Remove any weak, dead or diseased
Pests and Insects. The major problem in Texas is
root-knot nematodes, fig rust and cotton root rot. I
have found that if you do not cultivate the area around
your fig trees you will have less of a problem with
nematodes. Mowing the area to keep it clean seems to
work well. Nematodes are more of a problem on sandy
Fig rust is a fungal disease that attacks the leaves. It
most commonly occurs in the more humid areas of Texas.
It can be controlled by a neutral copper spray in May or
If you have cotton root rot, do not plant figs. Instead,
plant a resistant species such as pomegranate.
Nearly all of these varieties are available through
nurseries in Texas.
One source for 'Blue Giant' is Fanick's Nursery in San
Antonio. Womack Nursery in De Leon has the three main
varieties - 'Brown Turkey,' 'Texas Everbearing' and
'Celeste.' Bob Wells Nursery in Lindale has all the
varieties mentioned except 'Blue Giant.'
Richard Ashton is the
author of several books on fruit growing. The
Incredible Pomegranate - Plant and Fruit, Jujube - The
Chinese Date and his soon to be published book
Sweet Cherries for Southern Orchards are available
from Third Millennium Publishing at
www.3mpub.com/ashton or they can be purchased
through the Texas Gardener bookstore.