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The Scoop on 30 Fig Varieties | Desert King, Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Chicago Hardy & More Figs

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

1. Introduction

Fig trees are an ancient fruit crop, with a history of cultivation dating back to ancient civilizations. Due to human selection over 1000s of years, and due to the fig trees' mutualistic relationship with the fig wasp (Blastophaga Psenes), there is a huge genetic diversity within these oh-so-special ficus trees.
They come in many varieties, each with its own unique characteristics and qualities like different colors, shapes, sizes, how they taste, and so much more.

In this article, I will be exploring different types of fig varieties, including Adriatic, Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Calimyrna, Celeste, Chicago Hardy, Desert King, the "king of fig," Kadota, Lattarula, Little Miss Figgy, Olympian, Panache, Texas Blue Giant, Violette de Bordeaux.

I will also be discussing the best-tasting varieties, the sweetest figs, the most common types, the easiest fig trees to grow, the most hardy figs, the best fig in the world, and the differences between Turkish figs and Mission figs.

Additionally, we will discuss which fig trees are self-pollinating, and which fig tree produces the largest fruit.

2. Concerns when Growing Fig Trees

Growing fig trees can be a rewarding experience, as they are relatively easy to grow and can produce a bountiful crop of delicious fruit. To help you succeed, it's immensely important to choose the right fig variety.

I created a handy chart below that lists a number of the important factors that you'll want to consider when choosing a fig variety. Let's talk about how to use it to your advantage.

Where do fig trees grow?

Fig trees grow in USDA zones 6B-10B with little care.

They also prefer dry climates. After all, they are drought tolerant and are one of the best plants for the desert.

Most fig varieties will have poor-tasting fruits when ripening in humid climates, but if you choose the right fig variety, you can enjoy your harvests for years to come.

Fig Tree Cold Tolerance:

All fig varieties will survive the winter in zones 7B-10B. In 7A, I would choose only hardier fig tree varieties and in zone 6B, only the hardiest fig tree varieties like Chicago Hardy will survive with added winter protection.

In zones 4 and 5, you can grow fig trees in containers with ease. They make fantastic container plants. Just make sure that the fig variety that you choose, has an early ripening time, which is listed on the chart above.

How big do fig trees get?

In warmer fig climates where winter damage is none or minimal, fig trees can reach 40 ft in height over many years, but with proper pruning, they can easily be maintained at a 6-10 ft.

A handful of fig tree varieties are what are called dwarf fig trees, which means that they can be easily maintained at 6-8 ft with minimal or no pruning. One of which is called Little Ruby.

What do figs taste like?

Figs taste like a combination of sweet melons, berries, dried fruit, and sugar flavors. They can have a texture that is similar to jam, jelly, meat, or even pastries.

In the vast world of fig genetics, each variety tastes different. Usually determined by their flesh color. I've mapped out some simple flavor profiles on the chart, so that you can choose a fig that will taste like what you want it to.

3. Fig Varieties

Also known as the White Adriatic fig, the White Madeira fig, the Green Ischia fig, and the Strawberry Verte fig. White Adriatic and Black Mission were the first commercial fig varieties grown in the US, and for good reason. White Adriatic is visually appealing and it dries well. The fig also tastes among the better varieties in existence. Boasting a strong raspberry or strawberry-like berry flavor. The thick and jammy texture is sure to wow you and it will perform well in a range of climates. Even in cold fall weather after your first frost, this fig still ripens at a high quality due to its ability to taste great even when at a lower ripeness. It's a hardy tree too.

Alma fig

The agricultural experiment service at Texas A&M University bred Alma in 1975. I don't know why they ever released it. There are 100s of other fig varieties that I would choose to grow over this one. It's a pear-shaped and sometimes rounded fruit with brown skin with an amber or brown interior. The flavor is simple with brown sugar, fig, and honey flavors. Performance is mediocre in most locations in the US.

Atreano is a hardy tree of Italian origin brought to the US by Hanc Mathies and it was eventually featured by the first fig-focused nursery in the US, called Belleclare Nursery. It's an overwhelmingly sweet fig with green/yellow skin and amber or pink flesh. The variety tastes like honey and mild berries with a strong melon flavor. The texture is a lot like eating jelly. Atreano is one of the fastest-growing figs with huge 5-lobe leaves. The tree is hardy, and productive, and should produce a breba crop.

This fig variety is what I would consider the king of fig varieties. It is undoubtedly one of the best tasting fig varieties in existence. The origin, however, is a bit unclear, but the USDA imported this from where you might suspect it to be from, Madeira in Portugal. A Portuguese fig grower, named Lampo claims that the original name for this fig is Violetta. After hobbyist growers propagated and tasted the vast number of varieties in the USDA's depository at UC Davis, the conclusion was clear. That Black Madeira has an exquisite flavor and a hard-to-beat fig-eating experience. As you can see, it's rather productive, but it does ripen later in the growing season.

This is a fig variety that was brought to the Americas by Spanish missionaries in 1768, and with its black skin, the name Black Mission makes a whole lot of sense. It's a commercial fig grown all over the world and for good reason. It's productive, hardy, it produces a breba crop, is medium size, and dries well. It's probably in the top 3 of widely grown fig varieties throughout the world with different names in each country and orchard.

Brooklyn White fig

This fig variety was introduced to US growers by Bass Samaan at Trees of Joy. Bass is a family man who has a passionate love of fruit. Found in Brooklyn, it's been proven to be quite the hardy tree. It's also a vigorous and productive producer similar to the Atreano and the White Genoa fig. Not exactly the same, but similar skin color of green/yellow with an amber or pink flesh that's jelly-like and melon flavored.

Also known as the Black Jack fig and the Texas Blue Giant fig. Brown Turkey is a brown fig from the country of Turkey, hence the name. It's also one of the most widespread fig varieties in the world for its high vigor, ease of growing, high fruit set, and larger fruit size. All of these are some of the key characteristics that make a good commercial fig variety. However, it's not very flavorful. It is sweet and often filled with fig nectar, but I could name 100s of fig varieties that will offer something better to your taste buds. Because it's so widespread, there have been many figs throughout the last 100 years thought to be Brown Turkey. In fact, there are two other types of Brown Turkey in the US. One is called English Brown Turkey and the other is called Southern Brown Turkey. Yes. Fig varieties are unnecessarily confusing.

Brunswick fig

Also known as the Magnolia fig. This fig variety is pear-shaped with brown skin and amber or sometimes red flesh. The fruits are very sweet and commercially grown in Israel, known there as Khurtmani. It's not a fig for humid climates as the skin absorbs moisture like a sponge. The fruit isn't particularly tasty and even in dry places like Israel, I would highly suggest not growing this fig. It is however propagated all over the Northeastern US because it's a hardy tree, which is a prime example of why you should be careful when choosing the right fig variety for you and your location.

Calimyrna fig

Sometimes referred to as the Smyrna fig. It is a 'Smyrna' type, meaning that it requires pollination from the fig wasp (Blastophaga Psenes) for it to become edible. However, the term Smyrna refers to a classification of figs and so the variety name should not be referred to as such. Yes, they both function in a similar way, but fig varieties are confusing enough. The Calimyrna is what you commonly find at US grocery stores labeled as "Turkish" figs. It is the largest exported fig variety in the world. Its biggest positive is its thick skin and that it produces many seeds when pollinated giving it that classic dried fig crunch.

Sometimes referred to as "Sugar" fig for its high sweetness. Without a doubt, this fig variety is the standard all other figs are compared to in humid climates. It can ripen well even in the worst fig-growing conditions. As you'll see below, even LSU in their 1950s breeding program recognized how amazing Celeste is and decided to use it in all of their fig breeding. You might have heard of a fig called "Improved Celeste," as that's what LSU was intending to do, improve Celeste. Celeste is a small fig with brown, blue, or grey colored skin and brown or red flesh. To this day it's one of my favorites for its hardiness and superior skin.

Also known as Malta Black and the GE Neri fig. Chicago Hardy did not originate in Chicago. In fact, there was a popular fig in New York called Bensonhurst Purple, which is also the same fig, but before New York or Chicago existed, this fig was grown all throughout Europe and still is to this day for its incredible hardiness and resiliency. It truly has pushed the limits on where figs can be grown and for that, a lot of growers throughout history, have recognized its greatness.

This fig variety was bred by Ira Condit. Condit was the most well-respected fig grower in US history. His introduction however is not nearly as respected as he was. It is another similar fig to Atreano, White Genoa & Brooklyn White because of its flavor, texture, overwhelming sweetness, larger size, productivity, and coloration of the skin and flesh. As you can see from the photo, the breba figs can be as large as a tennis ball.

Desert King fig

Also known as the "King" fig. By no means though is this fig variety the king. Desert King is a special fig variety for its ability to produce high-quality and abundant breba figs, but by no means does it deserve the title of king. I reserve that for Black Madeira. Coll de Dama is the queen. And Smith is the prince. Desert King is a San Pedro fig. Meaning that the second crop of figs formed on the new growth requires pollination and the first crop of brebas, does not. This means that the main crop figs will drop off the tree and never be edible when they're not pollinated, but nonetheless, that doesn't;t matter as Desert King is proven to be one of the best and more reliable producers of early and tasty figs.

Flanders fig

The Flanders fig variety is commonly grown in California, but I would argue that there is plenty of better tasting and just better overall fig varieties than Flanders. It does have an interesting flavor profile, however, which is a lot like a honey or sugar fig combined with a berry tang. For most growers outside of somewhere dry, I do no recommend this variety as it performs poorly in humid conditions.

Also known as the Michurinska-10 fig, which is a very popular, hardy, and reliable fig variety in eastern Europe. It is their fig version of Hardy Chicago. Florea also ripens exceptionally early, produces breba, and generally tastes pretty darn good for its ability to dry on the tree in dryer climates. The figs can split, however, but dryer soils do this tree justice.
One of a series of Italian numbered fig varieties brought to the US by Todd Kennedy. The eating experience is on a similar level as Black Madeira and both are undoubtedly becoming famous in the US because everyone who eats them, can't deny how incredible they taste. I258 has an intense berry flavor with lots of honey-like fig nectar. It's vigorous, hardy, and ripens at a time that's not too late for most growers. Its problem is that it splits quite frequently. Plant this tree in the ground when grown in humid climates. You'll see better fruit quality.

Also known as Peter's Honey & Dotatto. This fig variety is grown all over the world and was originally the first known commercial fig during Roman times in Rome. It's what fig growers call a honey fig for its abundant fig nectar that resembles and tastes like honey. This was my Grandfather's favorite fig before he passed. Having said that, anyone who has tasted 10 or more fig varieties will know, it's not the best-tasting fig around. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy eating it, but people like my Grandfather who grew up with figs that taste like this one, praise it. And so that's what they're used to and want. I would highly recommend getting this fig variety for someone who's old-school Italian.

This fig variety was bred by Biologist Denny McGaughy with Chicago Hardy as one of the parents. Chicago Hardy makes an excellent parent because of its well above-average hardiness, early fruiting habit, and high-quality fruits. Little Ruby inherited those qualities but became a dwarf or miniature tree. In fact, this is one of 5 fig varieties that you wouldn't have to prune much if at all. But because of its small features, it also produces a small fruit. These tiny figs actually pack a punch though, boasting some of the best-dried fruit flavors you can find in a fresh fig. The fig variety produces two crops and is always reliable during rainy conditions due to its short hang time.

LSU Gold fig

Louisiana State University during the 1950s funded a fig breeding program and as a result, they have accomplished some of the best fig tree breeding to date. Why? Because they actually chose one of if not the best figs to breed with, called Celeste. However, unlike the other releases out of LSU's breeding program, I would not recommend LSU gold. This fig variety, while it is large in size, does not produce high-quality fruit in humid climates consistently, and if I was growing fig trees in a dry climate, I would skip this one too and instead grow a fig called Yellow Long Neck. It's larger, more reliable, and even has the same honey fig flavor profile that LSU gold has.

This fig variety is probably the most underrated and unappreciated release that has come out of the LSU fig breeding program. If you're a collector of fig varieties, LSU Purple offers something a little different than the rest. It tastes like caramel, brown sugar, and spice, but in a Black Mission package. What can deter growers is its spicey or bitter skin, but I love that quality. It creates the perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness. LSU Purple is a productive, hardy, and rain-resistant tree that is a very vigorous grower suitable as a cold hardy rootstock or a rootstock that is root-knot nematode resistant.

LSU Tiger has the best eating quality of any fig variety to come from the LSU breeding program. The skin is its best quality. Not only does it shed rain like its parent, Celeste, but it also has a sweet and chewy skin that cannot be seen in any other fig variety. It's truly a pleasure to eat the skin. Some fig enthusiasts peel the skin and just eat the flesh because the skin on some varieties is intrusive. Not on this one. It's the fig's best asset.

Olympian is a fig that Denny McGaughy genetically tested against the USDA's fig variety repository. The testing showed that it was unique genetically, but what the repository doesn't house is a fig called English Brown Turkey (EBT). EBT is what fig growers in the UK commonly grow, hence the name "English" Brown Turkey, but we know that this fig is vastly different than the true commercial variety, Brown Turkey. It is quite a hardy tree that's popular all over Europe, but also in Denmark, and is referred to there as Bornholm. It's a pear-shaped, brown-skinned fig with brown or red flesh and has a very sweet taste. While it is a very hardy tree, this fig variety does not perform well in more humid climates like the Northeastern US due to its higher-than-average amount of splitting. The eating experience is also nothing to write home about.

Today, Panache is another commercial fig variety grown in California for its similarities to the White Adriatic and its rimada-striped skin. A rimada fig is a chimera mutation that occurs quite often in fig trees. Specifically, particular buds on a fig tree can mutate and will have different characteristics than the Mother tree it came from. It will have different growing descriptors but what is more easily observed is the variegated wood and variegated fruits. Panache like the Adriatic fig is an exceptional eating experience, but like most figs, it struggles in humid weather. This is a fig variety that I would highly recommend growing in dry locations.

This fig variety is from the Bordeaux region of France. It has black, maroon and purple skin with a plum red colored flesh that actually tastes like plums. I would argue that it's very tasty, especially when they can shrivel up on the tree. The flavor is like an explosion of plums and figs in your mouth. The tree is somewhat hardy, is very productive, and produces a reliably early main crop. It's even being grown commercially now in Africa.

Sierra fig

This fig variety was one of two (the other is called Seqoia) that were bred by the University of California to be a better commercial fig variety than the Calimyrna. It's large, flat, and yellow-skinned with a honey-like flavor profile.

Smith or John Smith is the most common name in the US, but this fig variety is anything but average or common. It is originally believed to be a Croatian fig variety that made its way into France where the Becnel family grew it and then took it with them to the Southern US. From there they opened a fruit tree nursery and sold fig trees to homeowners all over the South making this a popular fig variety. Anyone who eats this fig variety will instantly fall in love with its truly exquisite and superb flavor and texture. In warm summers, this fig resembles a pastry in that the flesh is not like eating jam, but instead a "fig cake." It's a very fast grower that requires more sunlight than most fig varieties. It's also not a winter hardy tree and is only able to withstand about 10F.

Also known as the Dalmatie fig. This fig variety likely has French origins. Or at least, they were the ones who made this fig well known. Stella is the name of what growers in the US call it. It's a fig variety with a lot going for it. It's a hardy tree, it produces two crops (including the breba crop), the figs are massive (sometimes even over 200g) and the flavor is exceptional. It certainly rivals the best tasting figs. It's an oval-shaped, green-skinned fig with red flesh that has long 5-lobe and finger-like leaves.

Texas Everbearing fig

The Texas Everbearing fig could be any number of fig varieties. I don't know if there is a true or an original Texas Everbearing fig because the name "Texas Everbearing" has been used frequently to name figs that are different than each other. Most that are sold by nurseries are very similar to either Brunswick, Brown Turkey or another type of Brown Turkey called Southern Brown Turkey. Therefore, it's highly recommended that you figure out which of these the nursery that you're buying from, knows exactly what they're growing. Unfortunately, that'll only be a waste of time as most nursery catalogs and descriptions about their fig varieties are just regurgitated and incorrect information. That's basically the whole point of this article. To correct the information existing on the internet about commonly found fig varieties.

Also known as Beer's Black, the Negronne fig, and the Little Miss Figgy fig. Violette de Bordeaux (VdB) like Ronde de Bordeaux is from the Bordeaux region of France. An area where fruit, wine, figs, and grapes are respected. Therefore, it's only common sense that the VdB fig variety would be a great one. I like to think of this variety as a standard. It performs well everywhere and tastes great in all climates. It's also super productive and is one of the best breba producers around!

Also known as the Lattarula fig. White Marseilles has an extensive history actually dating back to Thomas Jefferson. During his frequent trips back and forth from France, he brought the White Marseilles fig variety home with him and planted it at his farm in Monticello. In fact, at the grounds of Monticello today, you can find White Marseilles trees growing there. This supports that White Marseilles is quite an old variety. It's also very common! Even in Europe and I would argue that it's one of the best tasting honey figs that I've grown. It has superior hardiness, and rain resistance and I think it could make a decent commercial fig option one day.

4. Q & A

Q: What is the best tasting variety of fig?

A: The best tasting varieties of figs are Black Madeira, Coll de Dama, and Hivernenca. Black Madeira and its similar figs, I258 & Calderona all have an intense berry flavor that you won't believe came from something nature created.

Coll de Dama Blanc, Grise, Noire, Gegantina, and others have an exquisite texture that resembles a pastry. It's almost like eating fig cake.

Hivernenca tastes similar to the intense berry flavors of Black Madeira but in a better-performing package.

Q: What are the different types of figs?

A: Figs can be classified into 4 main types - Common, San Pedro, Smyrna, and the male Caprifig. Each with its own type of flowers that are found within its syconium. The type of flowers determines if pollination is required for their main crop figs to ripen properly and become edible.

Q: Which fig variety is the sweetest?

A: The sweetest fig variety is not only one with a high brix content but also a lower amount of acidity. Some of the sweetest fig varieties are Longue d'Aout, Siblawi, and honey figs like Yellow Long Neck, Kadota, Peter's Honey & Dotatto.

Q: What is the most common type of fig?

A: The most common type of figs are the Black Mission fig, the Brown Turkey fig, and the Calimyrna fig. These are all highly regarded commercial figs and represent the majority of the figs that you can buy in grocery stores and markets around the world.

Q: What is the easiest fig tree to grow?

A: The easiest fig tree to grow is the fig variety that is well adapted to your location. LSU Purple is great for Florida, Black Madeira is great for hot & dry places like Southern California, Desert King is great for mild-summer climates, Celeste is great for humid climates and lastly Chicago Hardy is great for places where the winter lows are severe.

Q: What is the most hardy fig?

A: The most hardy fig is the Chicago hardy fig, but there are a number of fig varieties that could withstand even lower temperatures. It is unclear which fig is the most hardy.

Olympian, Stella, Celeste, Florea, Campaniere, Longue d'Aout, St. Martin and others are likely to withstand temperatures of 0-5F.

Q: Which is the best fig in the world?

A: The best fig in the world is the best-performing and best tasting variety at your location. Black Madeira is known to be the best tasting, but here in my yard in Philadelphia, it doesn't rival Smith in terms of performance, taste, and average fruit quality. For example, a great fig in California may not be nearly as good in Washington or New York. That's the beauty of trialing fig varieties. To see what will be the best fig for you.

Q: What is the difference between Turkish figs and Mission figs?

A: The difference between Turkish figs and Mission figs is that Turkish figs are grown from a fig variety called Calimyrna. Black Mission is a totally different fig variety that has very different growing characteristics, flavor, size, color, and so much more.

Q: Are black figs sweeter than green figs?

A: Black figs are no sweeter than green figs. The skin and skin color have nothing to do with the level of sweetness found within a fig. It is the genetics of the fig variety itself that largely determines the potential sweetness level. Other factors influence sweetness like your taste buds, the fig's level of acidity, the growing conditions in which the fig tree was grown in, and when the fig was harvested.

Q: Which fig trees are self pollinating?

A: Fig trees that are self pollinating are the figs that are classified as Common. Common figs have the right type of flowers within their syconium to avoid the need for pollination. Common figs are what are 'commonly' sold at most online nurseries and big box stores.

Q: What fig tree produces the largest fruit?

A: The fig tree that produces the largest fruit is called CDA, which is grown commercially in Malaysia. Yellow Long Neck, Brown Turkey, Stella, Black Zadar, Tauro, Sierra, Seqoia & Fiorone di Ruvo are other fig varieties that produce large fig fruits,

5. Conclusion

Fig varieties offer a wide range of flavors, colors, and textures, making them an ideal choice for any gardener or fruit lover. From the exquisite commercial Adriatic fig to the indescribably good Black Madeira fig, there is a fig variety for everyone.

The various figs discussed in this article, such as the Black Mission, Brown Turkey, and the king of fig, Desert King, are all great options for those looking to grow their own fig trees. No matter what your taste preferences or gardening abilities are, there is sure to be a fig variety that fits your needs. So why not try growing one (or a few) of these delicious and versatile fruits today?
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2 commenti

28 gen 2023

This is such a valuable post. The breakdown is the most clear I've come across. Thank you Ross.

Mi piace

28 gen 2023

Once again, you have given us all a very helpful and organized article detailing the many differences in well known fig varieties, how to select the varieties that would grow best in our particular environment, and some historical reference.

Mi piace
ross raddi_edited.jpg
I'm Ross, the "Fig Boss." A YouTuber educating the world on the wonderful passion of growing fig trees. Apply my experiences to your own fig journey to grow the best tasting food possible.
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