Friday, April 19, 2013


Springtime on Ocracoke Island means fig trees coming back to life and sprouting bright green leaves.

We will have to wait until late summer before the figs ripen and we can feast on the tasty fruit. Actually, however, the fig is not a fruit. Biologist Richard Dawkins describes the fig as a "garden enclosed." For a fascinating account of the mutualistic relationship between figs and fig wasps read chapter 10 of his book, "Climbing Mount Improbable."

I am no expert on figs, but I believe most garden-variety figs in this country, including Ocracoke Island figs, are not dependent on fig wasps. I think they are parthenocarpic, and develop without pollination. New fig trees grow from cuttings, or from branches that bend to the ground and grow roots.

Look for fig trees in yards throughout the village. And later this season look for delicious Ocracoke fig preserves for sale at Village Craftsmen. They are an island delicacy.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a video of Philip Howard telling the story of the 1861 wreck of the Black Squall. You can watch it here:


  1. And Fig Preserves absolutely RAWK! My grandmother used to make Fig Preserves every fall and we feasted until the preserves were all gone. Can an idiot grow a fig tree? If so, I need to try that one day...

  2. Anonymous9:38 AM

    Someone on OI must certainly cultivate figs. If one were to plant a fig I suppose it would sprout a seedling thus growing into a second generation plant. Now if one were to air layer a branch the new growth would be transplanted and a tree of that "DNA" would result, right? but in all reality each blossom pollinated could be slightly different. Oh don't be in fig wasp denial chocolate happens because of a tiny bug. bugs don't get any respect. I spray room deoderizer on bugs. anything to halt them on their tracks.

    1. After reading Dawkins' chapter on figs & fig wasps I was convinced that every fig contained remnants of tiny, almost microscopic, uniquely adapted wasps, but that never kept me from enjoying fresh figs, preserved figs, or fig cake.

      However, one day, it occurred to me that fig trees, at least on Ocracoke, seem always to start as cuttings (or branches that bend down and root). I've never known of a fig tree to sprout from a seed. So I did a little research. This is what I discovered:

      "[I]f you wish to grow a fig tree that will bear fruit, you need to have seed from a tree that's been fertilized. These figs are more likely from Turkey or other locations in the Middle East. This is because the fig wasp, which is needed for fertilization, is native to these countries, and will have, more than likely, fertilized the figs you purchase." (

      Of course, our fig trees bear figs. Then I discovered this information: Persistent (or Common) figs do not need pollination; fruit develop through parthenocarpic means. This is the variety of fig most commonly grown by home gardeners. Adriatic, Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Brunswick, and Celeste are some representative cultivars.

      So, I don't know if Ocracoke figs are in a mutualistic relationship with fig wasps. But I do know they are "good some" as Ocracokers say.