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The Muddled Origin of Fig Varieties | Fig Trees that are Specific to Different Areas of the World

Recently I was asked this question about the origin of fig varieties and I thought that sharing my answer would make for a great learning experience for others.
Hey Ross, I'm enjoying your content. I've only been involved in this fig crave for about a year now but am enjoying it. I'm from Oregon and have a large Desert King tree variety, which we love. I always thought there was big green and big purple figs. I'm just now finding out there is so much more out there. I now have about 16 different starter trees and am enjoying the voyage in the fig world. I'm just learning that there are figs that are specific to certain areas in the world. My ancestry comes from Portugal and the Azores Islands, so I thought it would be great to get some figs growing from those regions. So, not only am I interested in knowing some of those varieties from those regions but I thought it might be very interesting and educating if there was a map of the world that showed where these varieties come from. take care

Unfortunately the origin of the overwhelming number of fig varieties is far from definitive. Lets use the variety Azores Dark as an example. I could say that it originates from the island of Azores. It's in the name after all, but how do we really know? In fact Azores Dark is simply a well above average Hardy Chicago that over time has changed genetically due to epigenetics, so that sparks a few questions:

1. If Azores Dark has the same genetic code as Hardy Chicago (which is the current theory), wouldn't it be more important to actually figure out the origin of Hardy Chicago instead? If you go down that rabbit hole, we don't even know where Hardy Chicago originates. Over a decade ago, growers have speculated that it's from Mt. Etna in Italy. Some people I know have even visited Mt. Etna and looked for the original Hardy Chicago tree to eventually find nothing of significance. Lets say that there actually is an original Hardy Chicago tree somewhere near Mt. Etna. If that were the case, what should we call it? We can't call it Hardy Chicago. It's not originally from Chicago.

2. If you speak to the gentlemen who introduced Azores Dark to me and eventually the fig communities as a whole, he'll tell you that he found the tree growing in the yard of somebody who claims that it's from the island of Azores. In fact, in that same yard, you'll also find an Azores White that matches a fig called White Marseilles. White Marseilles as shown in the name is believed to be of French origin. My question is.. how do we really know he's telling the truth? Was he the one that imported the varieties to the US and then planted them himself? Perhaps it was someone in his family that imported Azores Dark and White to the US. Did you know that a lot of Grandparents (mine included) claim that we have a family fig tree that originates from our hometown in Italy. After trying to track it down, I realized that my Grandfather dug it up and gave it to his good friend Vince in Philadelphia before moving to Florida at retirement age. Vince took care of it for many years and after speaking with Vince while doing his tax return, I learned that a recent winter killed our families' fig tree! Vince then told me that he replaced it with cuttings that he was given from a neighbor of his. I then relayed this information to my Grandfather and after all of that digging around, I came to find out that our family fig tree died way before even Vince got it unbeknownst to me.

Now you can hopefully see why I don't put a lot of stock into these origin stories. A fig is a fig to me. Some are better than others and some are worse than others. What's important is what the tree means to you and what specifically you like about it. If you want to believe that it's your families fig tree, then so be it. I'm not going to stop you. If you want to believe that it comes from the island of Azores, I'm not going to stop you there either, but a map would be a little bit misleading.

If you want a good guess as to where a fig is from, it's just simply in the name. Beyond that, we may never know the true answer.
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Oct 23, 2022

Enjoying these blogs so much. FYI The Azores refers to a group of islands off Portugal, and are in the Atlantic Ocean not the Mediterranean.

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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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