Figs (Ficus carica) are fruit trees that generally thrive outdoors in mild Mediterranean climates. In cooler climates, they serve as an indoor container plant. The inverted flowers that the fig tree produces are often called “fruits,” although the seeds within these sweet and tender delicacies are the true fruits. With over 200 different cultivars, growing between 10 and 30 feet tall, there are various types of figs from which to choose. Fig trees have a potential to become invasive in some locations.
San Pedro and Smyrna Groups
San Pedro figs are a group of fig trees that produce two separate crops of fruit. Cultivars within this group produce a first crop called "breba" crop, which develops in the early spring on the tree’s previous season growth. The breba crop does not require the help of a pollinating insect. The second crop comes later in the season, developing on the tree’s new growth. This crop requires a pollinator to properly develop. Without a pollinator, the crop fails and developing fruits drop to the ground before reaching maturity. Smyrna trees are another group of figs that produce one crop, but require a pollinator in order for the crop to be successful. Smyrna-type figs and San Pedro cultivars that produce second crops that require pollination often fail; therefore, the fruits are generally sold as dried figs when crops are successful.
Cultivars that are known as "caprifigs" produce tiny, non-edible fruit. However, these trees play an important role in the production of edible fig crops. Pollen contained inside the caprifig’s fruits is gathered by the Blastophaga wasp. This wasp collects the pollen and transports it to fertilize the Smyrna-type figs and the second crop of the San Pedro-type figs. Without the pollen produced by the caprifig and the help of the Blastophaga wasp, non-self-pollinating fig crops would not develop.
Several self-pollinating fig cultivars do not require the assistance of the Blastophaga wasp to produce an edible fruit crop. The “Marseilles” fig, also called the “White Marseilles” or “Lemon” is a tree that produces medium-sized fruits that are yellow in color with tiny green speckles. Thriving in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9, they produce fruits that do not have a tapered “neck” like some figs. Developing on thin stalks, these fruits have a sweet, seedy center that is white in color.
“Brunswick,” sometimes called the “Magnolia,” is a medium-sized fig that is bulbous and hollow in the center. These fruits require a longer growing season before they reach maturity and can be harvested. The “Brunswick” fruit is purple to brown in color on the outside and pink and white when you cut them open. This tree is best suited for USDA zones 8 through 11.
Although fig trees are native to warm, Mediterranean climates, some self-pollinating cultivars are also adaptable to cooler climates. Cold-hardy varieties may still be best suited for container growing, as they require some form of winter protection. Fig trees cannot survive temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Trees adapted for colder climate zones include the “Brown Turkey” and the “Celeste.” The “Brown Turkey” tree produces large quantities of sweet fruits that have few seeds. The fruits are brown to copper in color with a pink and white center. Plant "Brown Turkey" figs in USDA zones 7 through 9. The “Celeste” tree is known for its aesthetically pleasing shape and small purple-brown fruits. These fruits also have few seeds. Thriving in USDA zones 6 through 9, this tree is known for producing a large crop in a small amount of time.