Montag, 7. November 2011

Plant of the Day (November 7th, 2011) - Ficus carica L.

Today's Post is about Ficus carica L. from the Moraceae family. I'm sure, that the most of you know this species because it's just the "common fig" (“Feigenbaum” in German), one of the most common fruit trees in the World.

F. carica - habitus

In nature, F. carica is a shrub or a tree, which can reach heights until 10 metres (32.8 feet). The bark is grey and the stem branched richly. The characteristic leaves are alternate and digitate; the typical form of fig-Leaves. Inside the plant is a caustic milky juice

The inflorescences of this monoecious species are pear-shaped and consist of many inconspicuous flowers with five white tepals, between 3 and 5 stamens and only one stylus per flower.

F. carica  - leaves

There are also two kinds of flowers: pure female flowers with only tepals and stylus and hermaphroditic flowers with tepals stamens and stylus. In Germany, we call the first type “Essfeige” and the second one “Bocksfeige”. The “Essfeige” (the pure female one) will later become the edible fruit.

Probably, the most complicated aspect of F. carica is its pollination biology, which is closely connected with the reproduction cycle of the fig-wasp (Blastophaga psenes). In coordination with the reproduction, the fig has three flowering times in Early Spring, Midsummer and Late Summer. In short, the pollination works as follow

  1. The female Fig-wasp enters a hermaphroditic flower (“Bocksfeige”) and lays its eggs in the stylus. This happens during the first flowering in the early spring.

  2. Both, male and female wasps will hatch from the eggs. The male wasps will fertilize the female ones and then die immediately after hatching. This happens during the second flowering time in Midsummer, when the pollen is ripe. The pregnant female wasps leave the
    flower and take the pollen with them.

  3. A pregnant female wasp enters a new flower. Now, two scenarios are possible: the wasp can enter a new “Bocksfeige” and start the reproduction cycle again or it enters a “Essfeige”. However, in contrast to the “Bockfeige”, the wasp is not able to lay its eggs and dies but pollinates the flowers with the pollen. As a result, the inflorescence will become a fig, which in fact consists of many small drupes.

  4. If the wasp chooses the first scenario, the reproduction cycle will repeated and for a second pollination in the last months of summer.
F. carica - fruit (proabably after Third flowering time)

F. carica is native to Mediterranean Areas and the Arab space, where it was first cultivated thousand years ago. Later it came to Europe and the colder Regions of the world as ornamental tree. But today, it can also be found as wild plant on temperate spots all over Middle Europe (e. g. slopes, cities, vineyards and so on). It's very undemanding toward the soil and has no problems with dryness but needs a warm place and a deeper soil to grow.

All photos show a wild fig 

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