Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Figs & Wasps...Again

Now that the Ocracoke Fig Festival is over, we are going to investigate the fig,  one of the most interesting "fruits" on the planet. I have addressed this issue before, but I think it is worth repeating. You see, a fig is not a single fruit after all. Evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, describes it as a "garden enclosed."

Each fig is a syconium (or multiple fruit), a hollow, fleshy receptacle with hundreds, or even thousands, of small flowers within. Kris Hirst, at, describes the fig this way: "Each species of fig tree in the wild comes in two types: the hermaphrodite fig, that produces pollen but does not produce seeds to generate a new tree; and the female, that produces no pollen but does produce three crops of figs throughout the year, one of which if pollinated, produces a seed that can make a new tree."

"If pollinated" is one clue to understanding this very unusual plant. Many of our readers are aware of fig wasps, the tiny (almost microscopic) critters that are essential to the pollination of figs (each species of fig has a specific fig wasp that is necessary to pollinate that species of fig). The particulars are extremely complicated, but, as Hirst points out, "all fruit of a regular fig tree have fig wasp embryos in them; whether the fruit is consumed by the wasp embryo or not determines whether the fruit survives to adulthood."

However, and this will be important to readers who are squeamish about ingesting insect parts, Hirst is writing about "regular [pollinated] fig trees." Domestic figs are parthenocarpic. They require no pollination, and therefore no wasps, in order to produce edible "fruit." Hirst continues, "Since these trees are not fertile (even if you can produce fruit you can't produce a working seed without pollination), the only way a parthenocarpic fig tree can reproduce is with the assistance of another symbiote--a human being. It's not difficult to propagate parthenocarpic figs: all you have to do is cut a branch and root it."

And that is exactly how Ocracoke fig trees are propagated, by rooting a cut branch, or by low-hanging branches naturally sending roots into the soil.

Enjoy your wasp-free Ocracoke figs! Jars of preserved figs are still available in many shops in the village, including on-line at Village Craftsmen.

Our latest Ocracoke Newletter is the story of Augustus Cabarrus, early inlet pilot, and the present day d'Oelsnitz family. Click here to read the Newsletter: Ocracoke...The French Connection

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