Updated: Sep 19
First.. why do we even care about Celeste? What makes it so special? Well... it's easily one of the most humid climate tolerant figs in existence. Having a teardrop shape allows it to shed water easily, it rarely if ever splits, has minor cracking and has a high enough brix content to using avoid fermentation and spoilage. All great traits in humid climates. However not all Celeste figs are created equal...
They can in fact be quite different even though some may share parentage or be related in some way. The flavor on some however may not be all that different. As most of these fall in the sugar fig category.
Celeste vs. Blue Celeste - As I currently understand it.. I'm not sure there is a whole lot of difference genetically. As Jon Verdick mentions here: http://figs4funforum.arghchive.com/post/question-about-celeste-types-4984436__trail_50 - "Generally, I propagate from Celeste JN, GM, IS, and Blue Celeste JN. Those are my favorites, which is why I propagate them. Fruit drop has not been an issue with any Celeste in my collection. USDA / UC Davis DNA testing indicates all of the Celestes and Blue Celestes are the same (I think we tested 19 different ones), but performance here is not the same." So I kind of think of them like HC types. They may be genetically equal, but show different characteristics. Some much more than others, which is where I think the whole "Blue" Celeste comes into play because some Celeste figs will not turn blue. Typically these are sugar figs. Some with concord grape berry notes. So far some of the standout Celeste strains are: The One, Stallion, Sweet Diana, Bill's Patrick Supergiant "Not" & Violette de Marseille. I'd like to grow some of the strains Jon is recommending at some point to compare.
Improved Celeste - These are figs that LSU bred in their breeding program. Using Celeste as one of the parents in the program, they tried to improve Celeste and thus gave birth to figs like LSU Purple, Tiger, Champagne, Hollier and even a fig we hobbyists call "Improved Celeste." There is a distinction here though.. LSU Purple as an example is an "improved version Celeste," but it is not the variety we refer to as Improved Celeste. And believe it or not.. There are quite a few figs labeled Improved Celeste at LSU's orchards that people have propagated and spread throughout the community. LSU O'Rourke you could say is one of them. Mine is from Ediblelandscaping in VA, which is clearly different than your typical Celeste. However it is also a sugar fig and overall I do find it to be an "improvement."
LSU Tiger - Out of all of the named LSU bred figs I find that this one is the closest to Celeste outside of O'Rourke and Improved Celeste. This from what I can tell is very similar to the Blue Celeste figs I have tried, but simply double the size. Many different characteristics of course, but it is quite similar in flavor and appearance. It also is a sugar fig with concord grape notes. Also goes by the name Calderwood.
Mega Celeste - This is one of the worst figs I've ever grown. Very different shape than Celeste. It was named by Herman2 after he found it and bought it at a Lowes or Home Depot claiming that it was similar to Celeste, but much larger. I can agree with that. Kind of similar to LSU Tiger, but a very poor performer with much worse flavor. Probably has no relation to Celeste. Only in name.
Black Celeste - I haven't tried this one myself yet, but I imagine it's got the most berry of any of the Celeste figs. Probably the best tasting as well. Similar shape & leaf patterns, but with a black skin and dark red interior.
Malta Black - This is a Hardy Chicago type which I believe has absolutely no relation to Celeste. There is a fig called "Malta" however that is a Blue skinned Celeste that Dalton Durio sells.
Southern Brown Turkey - You can find many strains/versions of this fig too. As people in the South (not knowing what their fig is called) simply named their fig Brown Turkey. However some of the strains of Southern Brown Turkey fall under the Celeste umbrella and should be additions to the many strains of Celeste Jon Verdick was talking about above.
Other figs with Celeste parentage:
LSU Hollier - This fig is no doubt worth mentioning in any Celeste write up. Similarly shaped, but it's got yellow skin and an amber/pink pulp. Very different flavor profile than your typical sugar fig. Boasting a more fruity honey profile that I find so pleasurable to eat.
LSU Scott's Yellow - Quite similar to Hollier in its appearance with a slightly different flavor. Looking forward to trying this one myself.
LSU Champagne vs. Golden Celeste - LSU Champagne is probably the most reliable honey fig I grow. Makes sense if it has Celeste in its parentage. Yellow skin, amber pulp, many sugar spots. Sometimes called LSU Golden Celeste, but do not confuse this fig with the handful of Golden Celeste strains that exist. LSU Champagne was the strain of Golden Celeste that was chosen to be released. The others found at LSU's orchards were not released and simply have the name Golden Celeste. Although they might be similar in appearance these figs are quite different than each other. Some Golden Celeste strains even have a red pulp.
For more information on Celeste see the my episode of Fruit Talk! below where I breakdown the importance of Celeste.