Figs are one of the oldest of domesticated
crops, widely popular
in ancient Persia, Arabia, and all
around the Mediterranean.
Often thought of as fruit, the fig
is actually an infolded flower –
like a bud that matures without ever opening. As you can imagine,
pollinating such a flower requires creativity.
Most flowering plants have co-evolved with birds, mammals, and
insects, used to carry pollen and distribute seeds. Fig pollen is
transferred from flower to flower by an insect called a fig wasp,
barely an eighth of an inch long. There are a thousand species of
fig, and nearly as many fig wasps.
The wasps overwinter as larvae inside the winter crop of figs. In
April, the larvae change into adults. Inside the fig, males emerge
and promptly impregnate the still-cocooned females. Soon after,
the wingless male bores an exit tunnel for the female and dies.
The winged, gravid female emerges and leaves the fig.
The female flies to a spring-flowering fig and enters through the
end opening, called the ostiole. She deposits eggs inside the fig,
while also delivering pollen, and then dies.
While some figs can develop without the benefit of fertilizing
wasps, Smyrna figs are considered to be the most desirable because
of their tender skin, and the oil in the fertilized seeds delivers
Speaking of extra flavor, the skeletons of female wasps plus
some dead larvae of the next generation are often found in
Smyrna figs. They say the “crunch” of the Smyrna fig is mostly
from the seeds… Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew!