Thursday, March 31, 2016

Have You Really Seen a Fig Flower?

Fig. 1    Parts of a Fig Branch.

One of the trick questions that I like to ask people regarding fig plants is: Have you ever seen a fig flower? The response I get is usually a quizzical look.  Of course! Why ask the question?  Doesn't everyone know?   

If you are looking for colorful petals where bees and butterflies land to get nectar and pollen then you are wasting your time.  The fig is different from most plants in that it produces a syconium.  The flowers are hidden inside and can only be seen by a special wasp that can enter the fruit through the ostiole (Fig. 2).  When the fruit starts to develop we only see the ovary as a syconium wall where all multiple flowers are fused together (Fig. 3). The flowers are facing inside - a characteristic of syconiun.  Imagine a fussy sock with a very tiny opening that is turned inside out.  That is how fig flowers are.  The pollination happens inside with the aid of a tiny fig wasp.  What happens to the wasp is another story. :)

Fig 2     The Ostiole: the entrance for the wasp.

Fig. 3     Cross-section of the fig syconium

Several years ago my fascination about the fig plant and it's fruit led me to write about it and buy my own fig trees.  Because of the uniqueness of the fig, even after so many years, I still am intrigued by it.  And with my own fig plants being close view from my kitchen, the scrutiny is even more intense.
So I thought that figs just bear fruits and we harvest them as they mature.  But recently I read some literature that a normal fig plant bears three crops of syconia in a given year.   And each crop has a name of its own.

Types of Syconia

1.   Mamme - .  These are the fruits remaining on the tree after the leaves have fallen off late in the fall and over winters in the tree and ripen in spring (Fig. 4).
2.  Profichi - .  These are the fruits that develop in early spring and ripen in early summer (Fig. 5).
3.   Mammoni - These are the second wave of edible fruits of the year which ripen in fall.

Fig. 4       Mamme:  The fruits that over winter on the tree

Fig. 5     Profichi. The first new fruits of the year

Every plant holds a mystery that awaits discovery.

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