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29 Fascinating Facts About Fig Trees – Very Intriguing! 

29 Fascinating Facts About Fig Trees

Most of us are familiar with the fruits of the fig tree. Festive favourites since the Middle Ages, soft purple vessels concealing dazzling ruby flesh. But there is more to the fig tree than just its fruit. They are some of the oldest and most ecologically important flora on the planet. They have played vital roles in human evolution, and are fundamental features in religion. Here are 29 truly fascinating facts about fig trees!

1. The genus ficus, collectively known as fig trees, comprises around 875 species of trees, shrubs, and vines belonging to the Mulberry family. Fig trees make up one of the most diverse and oldest flora genera on the planet, they have existed since the time of the Dinosaurs, around 80 million years ago. 

2. Fig trees can reach anywhere up to 50 feet in height and 1000 feet in circumference! On average, however, they reach a height of around 15 – 30 feet, although mature bonsai species (ficus retusa and ficus ginseng) can be little more than 30cm. Fig trees can live for 200 years or more. 

3. Primarily, fig trees are native to tropical areas of Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. They have an incredible ability to thrive in even the most desolate of conditions. The volcanic eruption at Krakatoa in 1883 annihilated all life on the island. Over time, however, 24 different ficus species bloomed from the sterile lava fields and volcanic rock that remained. The roots of the tree are strong enough to permeate stone. Fig trees flourish atop city centre buildings in Asia and engulf ancient Mayan ruins in Central America. 

4. The fig tree is considered a ‘keystone species’, that is, particular plants or animals which are fundamental to the survival and functionality of a specific ecosystem. Ficus species provide food and shelter for around 1,300 species of insects, birds, and mammals, ranging from tiny fruit bats to colossal elephants. The fig tree supports more life than any other plant species. Without them, whole ecosystems could collapse, or at least would be unable to function as normal. 

5. Archaeologists believe that the fig tree was probably the first plant ever cultivated by humans, predating the domestication of grains. The petrified remains of fig trees have been discovered at Neolithic sites dating back to at least 11,000 years ago. 

fun facts fig trees

6. Fig trees are used as restorative plants in rainforests and jungles which have suffered years of deforestation. The introduction of the fig trees into ecologically bereft areas encourages animals who feed on them, and will disperse the seeds of figs and other plants nearby, helping the forests to recover at a much faster rate.

7. The young Princess Elizabeth learned of her father King George VI’s death, and that she had become Queen Elizabeth II, whilst holidaying in a treehouse atop a giant 30-foot fig tree in Kenya. 

8. The fruit of the fig tree is not a fruit at all, but a series of minuscule inverted unisex flowers, or inflorescence, which both form, and are concealed within, the body of the fruit. 

9. Every species of ficus has its own unique wasp species which have co-evolved together over millions of years, creating a highly specialised and efficient symbiosis. The wasp climbs up into the fruit of its respective fig through a tiny hole and lays her eggs inside, pollinating the inverted flowers. Once the wasp eggs hatch, they leave the fruit and move on to pollinate other fig trees. Sometimes the female wasp will die inside the fruit, which then releases a special enzyme to digest the wasp. Without wasps, the fig tree could not produce fruit, without fig trees, the wasp could not lay her eggs.

10. Fig fruits come in hundreds of different shapes and sizes, from pea-sized to tennis ball-sized, and a spectrum of colours, from light green to deep purple. Each species’ fruit is favoured as food by different animal species. 

fig tree facts

11. Fig fruits ripen and partially dry on the tree so need to be picked at just the right time, (usually mid-to-late summer), although some species of ficus produce two crops of fruit per year. A mature fig tree usually produces up to 60 fruits per year, but commercially cultivated trees can produce up to six times that amount.

12. Figs are packed with essential nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and fibre required for healthy diets. One-half cup of figs has a calcium content equivalent to a half cup of milk. 

13. Some researchers believe that eating high-energy figs helped our ancestors to develop bigger and more complex brains, and that our hands developed in dexterity as a result of picking the fruits from the tree. 

14. It is not just the fruit of the fig which is edible, the leaves are too, and can be used to make tea, can be stuffed (similar to vine leaves), or used as an alternative to spinach. Even the wood of the fig tree has culinary value! Fig wood is popular with chefs for smoking meats, and it is described as giving a delicious, sweet, smokey flavour, unlike any other wood. 

15. In Tunisia, figs are fermented and distilled to create Boukha, a colourless alcoholic spirit similar to Brandy. 

fig tree

16. The fig tree and its fruits have been used for millennia in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine to treat various digestive ailments such as colic and constipation. The minerals and natural latex sap in fig trees have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and laxative properties. Figs can even help protect against cancers, diabetes, and other degenerative conditions.

17. So revered by the Ancient Greeks were figs that their export was forbidden. The fig was a staple part of the diet, and the sap was used to treat many ailments including warts, boils, and toothaches. 

18. ‘Strangler fig’ is the collective term for a unique group of ficus trees that grow downwards, as opposed to most other terrestrial plants which sprout upwards from the ground. Stranglers begin life when their seeds are dispersed high up in the canopy branches of a host tree by passing animals or birds. The seeds shoot out a complex root network, stretching downwards to penetrate the forest floor, gradually smothering the host tree, restricting the host’s nutrient and water supply, and eventually strangling it. 

19. The trunk-like roots of ficus trees are used by remote communities to make bridges to cross rivers and streams. The bridges are strong enough that they can withstand monsoons and can last for 500 years. 

20. In terms of area covered, banyan figs (ficus benghalensis), are the world’s largest trees. The largest of all the banyans living today is the Great Banyan Tree in West Bengal, India. Its 3,600 aerial roots cover 4.7 acres, and continue to grow! This single tree can provide shelter for up to 20,000 people beneath its boughs. 

cool things about fig trees

21. In Colonial India, banyan trees were used as makeshift gallows by the British to execute hundreds of Indian rebels. When India regained independence, they reclaimed the banyan as their national tree. 

22. The oldest stock exchange in Asia, and tenth oldest in the world, The Bombay Stock Exchange, was first formed under the shade of a Banyan fig tree in the 1850s. It continues to trade to this day. 

23. The fig tree, perhaps more than any other flora, is steeped in a rich history of spiritual and cultural symbolism. The fig tree symbolises fertility, due to the womb-like shape and soft, plump texture of the fruit, and abundance or prosperity, due to the plentiful bi-annual fruit crop produced by many fig trees. The fig tree features in folklore and represents Gods, spirits, and origins for hundreds of ethnically and spiritually diverse communities around the globe. 

24. In the Christian Bible Book of Genesis, it is written that Adam and Eve used fig leaves to protect their modesty in the Garden of Eden. Some people even believe that the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve was actually a fig, not an apple. 

25. In Buddhism, the Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa), is considered sacred. It is said that Buddha first found enlightenment whilst meditating beneath the sacred Bodhi tree. 

why are fig trees special

26. In Hinduism, ancient texts describe a cosmic ‘upside-down’ banyan tree (ficus benghalensis) whose roots reached to heaven and delivered blessings to Earth, symbolising life, death, and resurrection.

27. In Islam, figs are described as the fruit of paradise in the Qur’an, and are noted by Muhammad for their multiple medicinal benefits. 

28. In Renaissance Europe, Pope John Paul IV ordered nudity in art to be covered by fig leaves reminiscent of the Biblical loincloths fashioned by Adam and Eve. Known as the ‘fig leaf campaign’, scores of classical artworks and sculptures were forcibly adorned with fig leaves concealing what the Catholic Church saw as impious and lascivious nude displays. The fig leaf thus became associated with sexuality and sin in Medieval Europe. 

29. In Ancient Egypt, Pharaohs were buried in caskets made of local fig tree wood (ficus sycomorus), and were buried alongside dried figs. They believed the fruit would help to sustain their souls as they journeyed to the afterlife. 

Few other trees have had such a profound impact on Earth as the fig tree. Fundamental to rainforest ecosystems, ubiquitous in spirituality, steeped in symbolism, medicinally remarkable, and quite possibly the oldest domesticated plant on the planet, the fig tree is truly a fascinating flora. 

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Emily Grice

Emily Grice

Em Grice is a content writer specialising in horticulture and botany who combines her respect for the natural world with her love for the written word. A regular contributor to a range of international publications and organisations, she is most at peace when pottering in her own little garden in the north of England

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