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Little Ruby Fig | Comprehensive Variety Review

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

I've created a series of blog posts that contain comprehensive information on fig varieties that are what I could consider standards. There are 1000s of fig varieties in existence, but figs like Little Ruby are usually easy to find, they're inexpensive and are a classic fig 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 in the variety directory here:


Origin: Denny McGaughy

Categorization: Bifere

Similar varieties: Hardy Chicago

Taste grouping: Figgy / Fruity Berry

Texture: Jammy

Size: Small

Ripening period: Very early

Vigor: Dwarf

Eye: Open

Spoilage resistance: Very Low

Rain resistance: Low

Split Resistance: High

Shape: Spherical

Hang time: Very short

Climate preference: Well adapted, but preferably somewhere dry

Hardiness: High

Taste rating: 4.5/5

Light requirements: Below average

Productivity: High


This is a fig that you don't hear much about. It's called Little Ruby. After not being that impressed with the fruit quality the first couple of years I was growing it, I decided to keep it but only because it's truly a dwarf fig. I believed there might be value in that trait for a potential rootstock candidate. If we define vigor by measuring the diameter of the wood. The smaller diameter, the more dwarf it is. Little Ruby certainly has wood that's at least in the bottom 5 of all varieties I've grown in terms of vigor. 4 years after having it planted in the ground with almost no pruning, the tree is barely 4 ft in height. Truly remarkable!


What also makes it a strong rootstock candidate is its hardiness. I had a strong hunch that Little Ruby is somehow related to Hardy Chicago. Not in the way that it's a mutation or shows epigenetic differences like some others we commonly see under the Hardy Chicago umbrella, but instead I thought it could be a seedling. The fruit tastes similar, looks similar, the leaf pattern is similar and the hardiness is even similar. The major differences is in the shape of the fruit, Little Ruby's open eye, the taste is far from exactly the same (although similar) and the dwarf characteristic is way different. Even if it's not a seedling of HC (the tree is still quite hardy), I don't think it's out of the question to use this as a dwarfing rootstock in zone 8's or warm zone 7's. The idea of a low maintenance fig tree for the average homeowner is certainly true for this variety. There is very little pruning or care involved.

Some other candidates worth testing for rootstock purposes are Nerucciolo d'Elba, Verdino del Nord (VR) & a true dwarf strain of Pastiliere. These are all quite dwarfed and hardy. Problem is.. you can't argue with the fruit from any of those and you'd probably be crazy to use them as rootstock.

After trying to find the true origin of this fig, I came across this piece of information from One Green World: "Little Ruby was selected by retired biologist Denny McGaughy of Olympian fig fame! Thanks Denny!" Apparently it is indeed a seedling and after further research I learned that it is indeed a seedling of Hardy Chicago. How interesting!



I think what really made me dislike this fig early on was the fact that it was so weak. Perhaps a bit difficult to establish in a container, but it's really compounded by the fact that this tree can only really be found by big online mail order nurseries sold as a tissue culture (TC). Across the board, tissue cultured figs are really missing something their counterparts grown by cutting have. Yeah... TC plants are supposed to be free of viruses like FMV, but it's really a huge disadvantage I've noticed when propagated this way. Now that the tree is in ground and it's been a few years, the tree has really changed. The figs are double the size, the breba crop is plentiful and the main crop is very early. Super early in fact. Among the earliest ripening only 65 days after fruit set. That's pretty special.

In terms of the fruit quality, I'm not gonna say that it's the best tasting fig I have, but it's at least a solid 4.5/5 when shriveled on the tree. The figgy flavor is quite high at that point and to me is very enjoyable and unique. It has a more intense dried fruit flavor than any other fig I've tried and it's certainly a flavor profile I don't grow enough.


Other than the almost painful & difficult time establishing this variety, there are many other downsides to Little Ruby. One of the biggest problems is its open eye. And it is OPEN. The interior is therefore always exposed to the outside elements making spoilage a real and frequent possibility from rain. Additionally, if grown in humid environments, this fig can form mold at the eye and due to the way the figs hang and because of their shape, they also almost always have their the eye pointed towards the sky when they are swelling. This upwards pointed eye allows rain to easily enter the inside of the fig. They do eventually sag down, but for a good portion of the swelling process when the fig is vulnerable to climatic events, the eye is pointing upwards.

The skin is its other weakness. Water hits the skin of the fig and it absorbs into the fruit lowering the brix and ruining fruit quality. This occurs much easier than other varieties as Little Ruby's skin acts like a sponge while others have a skin like a waterproof jacket.

Because of all of this, you could imagine that this fig should not be grown anywhere humid, but believe it or not it has one of the best qualities I look for in a fig. A short hang time or susceptibility window. This short window allows the figs to ripen very quickly. This way you can pick them at a high quality before the rain and shortly after the rains end. It has all the wrong qualities except for the one that matters most and as a result produces very high quality figs during a time that the overwhelming majority of figs will not. It's truly special in this way and has become one of the best figs that I grow.



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I have one in Florida , the tree has a lot of small fruits , I do like the taste of this little ruby. TY 4 sharing

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Ruth Burrus
Ruth Burrus
2023년 3월 24일

I just got a small Little Ruby and am excited. But I live in the pacific northwest so rain is a constant possibility from October thru June. July through September is usually very dry.

Should I grow it with a cover of some kind to prevent or minimize rain getting on it? I'm thinking at least partially open sided

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Marci Kristofzski
Marci Kristofzski
2022년 6월 06일

I keep little Ruby under my apple tree because my seasons are really short and because of this have never had the issues it did from the constant rain. I'm on flood plain.

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Arnold Merriam
Arnold Merriam
2022년 4월 27일

Two questions for you Ross: 1. If you take a cutting from a TC fig, does the resulting plant revert to its standard (non TC) characteristics? And 2. How is TC performed? Is it truly similar to laboratory TC where a human cell line is grown in a nutrient medium? Thank you! Arnie

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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