The Shape of Figs - Why it's so Important

In regard to my previous blog post on fruit quality found here: - I elaborate on why split resistance is such an important characteristic for so many fig growers. When the interior of the fig is exposed to the outside elements, it doesn't take much to spoil the fig. Keeping the outer shell of the fig intact and crack and split free is the best way to prevent this. Unfortunately for many growers splitting happens too frequently and especially at the eye. This is where the fig is most susceptible.

Splitting is frequently caused by too much moisture in the soil, but it also can be caused by the fruits themselves absorbing moisture after or during a rain event. That absorption causes the fruits to expand too quickly. Quick expansion leads to split fruits. Therefore any depression in the shape of the fruit is not ideal. At those locations more moisture will be absorbed.

So growers need to start thinking about the shape of fig varieties when grown in humid places. As well as how exactly can the shape of the fig or the way the fig hangs during ripening shed water in a way to prevent absorption. Below you will see a drawing taken from Monserrat Pons' book, "Fig trees of the Baleric Islands."

These are the 6 major shapes of fig varieties. Of course there are many variations and some even display fruits that can have a certain percentage of one shape and a certain percentage of another. What's cool about the shape of fig varieties is that it is the most or one of the most reliable descriptors for a fig when trying to identify the fig variety. The shape is the most consistent characteristic even when grown in different parts of the world. So if you see a photo of a fig variety grown in Malaysia, it will have very similar shape when grown California. Because of this in many highly respected documents on figs like Condit's Monograph for example, they often describe the shape of the fig. The shapes all have different names depending on the language. Sometimes you may hear them described as oblate or ovoid or spherical.

Whatever you want to call them is up to you, but through my extensive history of trialing fig varieties in a humid climate, it is clear that the shape particularly if the fig has a ovoidal or pyriforme shape, it will shed water a lot better and therefore won't split nearly as often. Now... the answer is not exactly that simple because there are figs that do split and could split quite frequently of those particular shapes and that's not to say that a fig of another shape like urceolado will always split. The skin I believe plays a big factor. The elasticity or firmness of the skin can also play a part.

What I believe is even more important is actually the way the fruit hangs as it swells and ripens. When the fig is swelling and becoming softer and changing color, the fruit can be in a state that is still quite hard and at that point it can be very difficult for the fruit to split at the eye. As it softens and expands, it becomes easier and easier. Some varieties as they soften and expand have their eyes pointed towards the sky. If you remember from what I said above, is that the eye is the most sensitive part of the fig, so if the eye is pointing towards the sky rather than the last part of the fig that the rain will touch, then we have a problem and it is very likely at that point that the fig will split.

So in a simple way of putting it, the angle in which the fig is swelling can also dramatically affect the split resistance. So how do we choose figs that ripen and swell at the right angle?

Well actually it's also quite simple. IF you at the length of the stem, each variety is different. Also each variety has a certain length of their neck and each varieties neck can be of a certain firmness as it ripens. For example.. Campaniere is a fruit that is of a spherical shape and therefore is prone to splitting more than a fig like Celeste, which displays your classic pyriforme shape. However, Campaniere doesn't split as often as lets say Ronde de Bordeaux or Pastiliere (these are other varieties with a spherical shape) because Campaniere usually has a long stem and the neck of the fig allows it to droop in a way that is more conducive to preventing splitting.

SO if we want the best possible variety to prevent splitting, the best solution to look at photos of the shape and of course also how the fig hangs. We want long necks, long stems and slender bodies to allow the fig to shed water without absorption. See Moro de Caneva below for a great example of what we're looking for:

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