Fig (Ficus carica): Syconium
Have you ever seen fig flowers? If you are thinking of colorful petals then it is certain that you would not have recognized the flower even if you saw one. However, if you have already opened a fig fruit it is likely that you also have seen fig flowers. Fig flowers are hidden. Hundreds of tiny flowers line the inner wall of a hallow receptacle. In the natural process of fruiting, cells around the ovary enlarge and divide soon after the ovules have been fertilized. This growth of cells results from a natural production of the necessary plant hormones (such as gibberellin and auxin) which is triggered by the fertilization of the ovules (except in the case of parthenocapic fruits). The fruit generally functions as attractant to organisms that would be agent to seed dispersal. In the case of figs, the receptacle enlarges around the seeds - forming a sweet and fleshy bulbous-shape fruit.
Inverted fruit. An ordinary plant flower is colorful and very conspicuous attracting a wide variety of pollinators. The flower is like the flag being waved to indicate that this flower welcomes visitors. The fig inflorescence is the opposite of the normal flower because they are hidden inside a syconium (from the Greek word sykon meaning fig). Syconium is an inverted fruit and the fig is a syconium. A carpet of numerous small flowers is concealed inside with only a tiny aperture called osteole on the outer end of the fruit.
Pollination Extraordinaire. With the enclosed flowers of this tree, pollination is hardly imaginable. However, through the mystery of a mutualistic symbiosis between the fig tree and the fig wasp, pollination takes place in a most unusual way. The flowers inside the syconium exude a subtle hint of perfume that serves as a signal for the wasps to get in at the right time. Of all the insect species, only the fig wasp is known to pollinate the fig tree. Likewise, of all the fruits known to these wasps, only the fig qualifies to hold their eggs. The fig tree and the fig wasp cannot live without the other. Truly, this interesting phenomenon in plant-insect relationship cannot be explained easily without attributing it to God's design.
Cross section of a syconium showing numerous achenes.
Figs - delicious and nutritious fruits.