Monday, March 12, 2012

Fig Wasps ?

New leaves are bursting forth from our island fig trees. And Ocracoke gardeners are giving springtime thoughts to tending to these iconic trees. On July 16 of last year I posted a short article about the complex and fascinating relationship between figs and fig wasps (every species of fig has a unique species of tiny wasps that fertilizes that type of fig tree).

After I published that journal entry I pondered the completeness of the description. Island fig trees are rooted from cuttings, or reproduce by sending supple limbs down to the ground where they root. I questioned if they ever reproduce from seed.

A little bit of research revealed that fertilized fig seeds generally come from Turkey or other Middle Eastern locations because fig wasps are native to those areas. I further learned that "persistent" or common figs do not need pollination. I am not 100% certain, but I suspect that all fig trees on Ocracoke are descendants of trees that were cultivated millennia ago, and that their fruit develops parthenocarpicly (without fertilization).

So, if you've ever been squeamish about eating figs (and therefore wasp larvae), I think you can relax. I have never seen evidence of fig wasps in Ocracoke figs.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Civil War on the Outer Banks, Josephus Daniels, Jr, Secretary of the Navy during WWI, and his connection to Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. Parthenocarpicly? Easy for you to say.

  2. debbie s.9:47 AM

    do any of the shops sell rooted fig cuttings?

  3. Anonymous10:10 AM

    The Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum sells fig trees, rooted from local trees.


  4. debbie s.1:59 PM

    oh cool DeAnna! will have to check that out when we're over there! :)

  5. Anonymous7:53 AM

    many cultures eat bugs. Bugs are fat and gluten free. why would a wasp lay eggs on the fig? Do you know that in fact, a wasp does such a thing? I would like a bug expert to weigh in on this topic. Bees pollinate and do not lay eggs on flowers , they have hives. Do not wasps build nests?

  6. Anonymous7:58 AM

    I am not a bug expert but-- an internet search has revealed that caprifigs (sp?) are the inedible fig a wasp lays eggs in --I think I am going to barf -- but the edible figs humans eat are just full of seeds (ITIAGTB)

  7. Chapter 10 ("A Garden Inclosed") in the book "Climbing Mount Improbable" by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is a fascinating account of the very complex relationship between figs and (very tiny) fig wasps.

    I am still trying to figure out if our island figs are pollinated or not, but I don't think so. Maybe one of our readers knows.