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Black Madeira - Variety Review

I'm starting a series of blog posts related to fig varieties that are standards or MUST grow figs, they're usually easy to find, inexpensive and are just a classic variety that you ought to know like the back of your hand. Check out the other blog posts on the other varieties I've covered!


Origin: Unknown

Categorization: Unifera

Similar varieties: Violetta (Lampo), Black Tuscan, Cravin's Craving, Figo Preto, Madeira Island Black, Pota de Cavall, Black Portuguese (BC)

Taste grouping: Elegant berry

Texture: Jammy

Size: Medium

Ripening period: Late season

Vigor: Average

Rain resistance: Average

Shape: Urceolado

Hang time: Average

Split resistance: Very Low

Climate preference: Dry/Long season climates

Hardiness: Above average

Taste rating: 4.8/5

Light requirements: Average

Productivity: High


For those that don't know of this fig, you should remember it. It's probably the most well regarded variety in fig history. Black Madeira goes by many names and the origin is unclear, but what I do know is that it is found all over Europe and a very well respected grower in Portugal by the name of Lampo believed that the real name for this fig is Violetta. Or at least that is what he has called it in his country before the USDA imported it to the US and US hobbyists made it popular. Per the name you should expect that it comes from Madeira. Where exactly in Madeira? That is unclear. Just know that the origin is foggy, but the reputation of this fig is clear. It's one of the best and I believe it has immortalized itself in fig history that many growers will always respect for it's taste qualities.



And that's really what makes Black Madeira so special. It's one of the best tasting and almost like a right of passage all fig hobbyists must go through. Even if it's not a great choice for your particular climate. The flavor has acidic and complex berry tones combined with high sweetness from fig nectar pooling in the void & dripping from the eye. The berry flavor is intense and is among the most intense you can find in a fig. This is really what makes the flavor so special. It's all in the rich sweetness and berry flavor. I remember eating one of these that was caprified and grown in perfect California weather. I could not believe what I was eating. I would go to California again just to taste this fig grown in perfect conditions again.


It's only fair that something tasting so good is lacking in other areas. Unfortunately it's quite a late variety. Often taking longer than your standard 90 days to ripen after fruit set. This number is largely influenced by heat units. In the PNW or the UK, you will have a very hard time ripening this fig without a greenhouse. Even here in the Northeast if your tree is not mature and unfortunately reaching maturity can be a long process due to FMV.


This variety has historically been one of the least healthiest and most infected with fig mosaic virus. The USDA's collection at Wolfskill became heavily infected with FMV as time went on. Everyone wanted this variety and therefore it was quite the mission of some growers to find a source of Black Madeira that was mostly FMV free. One of which is from a hobbyist named KK. That's where the KK tag comes from when you see BM (KK). It's quite a long messy story, but in actuality the BM (KK) version of Black Madeira is no different than the USDA version. Whether or not this is true does not matter to me personally because it is clear that the KK version is significantly more healthier than the USDA version. They may share the same exact genetics, but why choose a less healthy source when given the option. The good news is.. if you have the USDA version, your tree can very easily become as healthy as the KK source. Simply rejuvenation prune. If you're not familiar with rejuvenation pruning, I would highly recommend reading up on the topic. You can do that here: https://www.figboss.com/post/rejuvenation-pruning-a-technique-we-should-do-more-of - So in my eyes, the argument is pointless. They are very likely the same and both can be made exactly the same with proper technique.


Another big downside and probably the biggest is its split resistance. This fig is one of the absolute worst. Growers have been scratching their head for years trying to stop this fig from splitting. My advice: you can't. The shape and the way the fig hangs as it swells is way off to produce high quality fruit reliably in a humid climate. It's so bad that you may only actually enjoy 10% of the actual production. So if the tree produced 50 figs in a season, I only realistically enjoy 5 of them here. As I said though.. it's a rite of passage and those figs will be damn good. We've talked a lot about the shape and the way these figs hang and how that dramatically affects the way it sheds water and therefore also how it absorbs water. The worst piece though is the eye of the figs are often pointed towards the sky when swelling. If rain hits the eye of the fig (like the majority of varieties), I can almost guarantee that it will split. That is where it is most sensitive.



One cool feature of this fig is that it often drips nectar from the eye. This can stop ants from entering, but attract other insects. Personally, I think it's a cool visual and a sign of a very sweet fig, but nothing more. The skin is tough and quite thick. Some really don't like that. I don't prefer it, but you can very easily peel this fig and that thick outer shell allows it to be handled without too much damage. For this reason, it would actually make a decent commercial fig. Wouldn't that be nice? To see Black Madeira figs sold in stores.



Without a doubt this is a fantastic variety. Well worth study, but without a dry and long season climate, you're going to have some heart breaking moments. Enjoy!

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