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Types of Fig Trees: A Full Understanding of Other Species, Its Varieties, Lower Classifications, & More

Updated: Jun 23



Ficus Carica also known as the fig tree is incredibly diverse. Just the genus Ficus has over 850 species within it, including Ficus Carica, which alone has thousands of unique varieties. There's a lot to explore!

In this article, I’ll simplify the different types of fig trees, including other species of Ficus, some of the different varieties, types of male and female figs, and their delicious flavor profiles you may have heard of!

For example, do you know what a honey fig is? Or a San Pedro fig? Let this be your guide to clear up any confusion and cut through the noise.

As always if you want to see more fig-related content like this, feel free to subscribe to the monthly Fig Boss newsletter at the top of the page.



Other Species Within the Ficus Genus:


Let's begin with a broad overview and narrow it down. Did you know that Ficus Palmata often hybridizes with Ficus Carica, and they can likely be grafted together? However, Ficus Sycomorus (the sycamore fig) is more commonly used in sandy soils with root-knot nematodes. Here are some common species in the Ficus genus:



While each of these species is significant, humans have chosen Ficus carica as a companion throughout history for several reasons. Its fruit, the fig, is highly nutritious and has been a valuable food source for millennia. Figs are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a staple in many ancient diets. Additionally, fig trees are relatively easy to cultivate and can thrive in various climates, contributing to their widespread cultivation.

Evidence of fig cultivation dates back 12,000 years in Mesopotamia, underscoring their long-standing importance. Beyond their nutritional value, fig trees have cultural and symbolic significance in many societies. They appear in numerous myths, religious texts, and historical records, symbolizing prosperity, peace, and fertility.

Now that we've discussed other Ficus species, let's focus on the fig tree, Ficus carica, and explore some of its varieties.


Varieties of Ficus Carica:


What’s a variety exactly?



A fig variety refers to a specific cultivar within the species Ficus Carica that has distinct characteristics such as size, color, flavor, and ripening time. While all fig varieties belong to the same species, Ficus Carica, each variety has unique traits due to natural genetic differences. 

For example, take into consideration the differences between a Gala and a Granny Smith apple. These two are different varieties of apples, yet they are both under the same species.

Here are a handful of fig varieties worth knowing about:

Black Mission Fig (Ficus carica 'Black Mission')


This fig variety is known as one of the most commonly grown varieties in the world. Specifically, for commercial production as it has thick skin and above-average flavor.


Brown Turkey Fig (Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey')


Mainly grown commercially for its large size, this is one of the worst fig varieties that you could choose. It is a poor performer in most locations in the US. I would highly recommend many other fig varieties over this one.


Hardy Chicago (Ficus carica 'Hardy Chicago')


The most well-known fig variety in the world for its cold hardiness. It can withstand temperatures of 0F or -17C.

Celeste (Ficus carica 'Celeste')


The standard for fig varieties when grown in humid climates. It’s so good in moist environments that Louisiana State University tried to improve it in its breeding program during the 1950s.


Desert King (Ficus carica 'Desert King')


The most well-known producer of reliable & tasty breba crop figs. The classic San Pedro type fig. We’ll talk more about what a San Pedro fig is later on in the article.

After trialing 400 varieties over the last 10 years, I've learned it's best not to limit yourself to the few varieties offered by online or local nurseries. While some of these are good, they may not perform well in every location.


Instead, select a variety that will perform well in your climate. Selecting a variety that offers a reliable harvest with consistently high-quality ripening will allow you to enjoy the amazing eating experience a fig tree has to offer.

For humid climates where annual rainfall is 25 inches or higher, I recommend growing a variety like Smith. 


For cold climates (zones 4-7), I recommend growing a cold hardy variety like Campaniere.

But don’t stop there, growers in cold climates like myself have put together a much wider selection to choose from.


For growers in areas that have mild summers or short seasons, I recommend growing a variety like Ronde de Bordeaux.



For everyone else in great fig-growing conditions, IE: hot and dry places, I recommend growing only the best-tasting fig varieties. Fig varieties like Black Madeira and the Coll de Damas cannot be overlooked.


If you want to see a full list of fig varieties I offer for sale, check out the sale page, here.


Synonym "Types"


Before we finish off the variety section of this article, I can't forget to mention synonyms.


What is a fig tree synonym?

In the fruit world, synonyms are different names for genetically identical varieties. Due to widespread adoption, irresponsible hobbyist naming practices and a lack of knowledge about fig trees, Hardy Chicago has over 100 synonyms: Bensonhurst Purple, Bethlehem Black, & Malta Black are a few you might have heard of.


This can be confusing! Experienced growers simplify things by categorizing these synonyms. For instance, you might have heard about Mt. Etna figs or Mt. Etna types. This name came about because some fig growers believed Hardy Chicago originated there. Personally, I think that theory holds no weight, so I just call them Hardy Chicago types.

Other popular figs like White Marseilles, Celeste, Dalmatie, Brunswick, and Longue d'Aout also have many synonyms. To simplify, I also refer to these synonyms as having their own type, such as "Celeste type", "strain of Celeste" (if it's different), or "source of Celeste" (depending on who it comes from). At the end of the day, there are many synonyms within fig varieties, but they may also not be genetically identical due to mutation or epigenetic changes.

It's a fascinating subject, and that is why I am growing 15 different sources of Celeste for example: to find a source that's different enough and possibly better than the others.



Lower Classifications of the Fig Tree:


Now that you understand the varieties of Ficus Carica, you might not know that figs can be male or female. Let me explain the differences: Female figs produce edible fruit, while male figs are mostly used for pollination, often with the help of the fig wasp, Blastophaga psenes.


The 3 Types of Female Figs: Common, Smyrna, & San Pedro


Planting a pollinated fig seed gives you about a 75% chance of growing a female seedling. However, there’s a 66% chance this female fig will require pollination to ripen edible fruit.

What about the other 33%? These are called Common figs.

Common Figs


Generally speaking, figs don’t require pollination. You only need one tree; you don’t need a male tree or the fig wasp. This is because nurseries readily and commercially offer "Common" female figs that don’t require pollination, so the hard work is already done for you.

Within common figs, there are two sub-types: Unifera and Bifera. Meaning, they produce one or two crops. Bifera varieties will also produce a breba crop, which ripens 30-45 days earlier than the main crop.


The main crop forms on the new growth of the season, while the breba crop forms and swells on last year’s growth at the beginning of the season. It’s important to understand this distinction. Through educating thousands of new fig growers, I've found that most don’t know what a breba fig is, mainly because their variety doesn’t produce them.


Smyrna Figs


These figs contain only perfect female flowers, meaning they are not parthenocarpic and require pollination either by hand or by the fig wasp (Blastophaga psenes). Unlike Common figs, which have flowers believed to have mutated to never form flower gills or male flowers, Smyrna figs need this pollination to produce main crop fruit. However, they will never produce breba.


San Pedro Figs


These figs present different flowers depending on the crop you're harvesting. The first crop, called breba, never requires pollination, while the main crop does. Differentiating a San Pedro from a Smyrna fig is easy: San Pedro figs will produce breba (Bifera), and Smyrna figs (Unifera) will not.

Types of Male Figs:


The male fig also known as a caprifig comes in two types: persistent and non-persistent. Persistent caprifigs produce pollen in their Profichi crop and often a portion of their flowers will be edible.


There are 3 crops of caprifigs:


  • Profichi - the first crop resembles the female breba in the way that the buds are produced on last year's wood and ripen during the late spring or early summer.

  • Mammoni - the second crop resembles the female main crop ripening during the summer and fall.

  • Mamme - the third crop in which the fig wasp (Blastophaga Psenes) overwinters inside.


I’m sure that was a lot of information at once. Luckily, male figs are quite a specialized category within fig tree enthusiasts, but I promise I saved the best for last: flavor profiles.

The Different Fig Flavor Profiles:



Did you know that figs come in a wide variety of flavors and textures? Their genetics not only control their differences in size, shape, and color but also their flavor and texture.

Don't believe me? Watch this video where I compare 20 or more fig varieties at one time.


Mistakenly, uneducated fig enthusiasts believe that a fig's skin color determines the flavor. They believe there are only white and black figs or light figs and dark figs, and they have a preference between the two. What they don't know is how vast the genetic diversity of fig trees is. 

This might just be the biggest myth surrounding fig trees.


To help new fig growers, experienced fig growers have grouped similar tasting varieties into what are called flavor profiles, providing helpful guidelines for selecting a variety that suits your preferences. 

Consensus has led to 3 predominant fig flavor profiles: Sugar, Honey, and Berry.

  • Sugar: A fig with melon undertones, dried fruit “figgy” flavor, and often unique sugars.

  • Honey: Higher in melon flavor, accompanied by honey-like sugars and nectar.

  • Berry: Figs with pronounced berry or other fruity flavors.


I would recommend reading more about the other flavor profiles. Ficus Carica has a lot to offer and not only are the flavor profiles vast, but so are the varieties and many of types within this amazing species.

Check out the other flavor profiles, here.


And to learn more encyclopedic information on fig trees, check out this article next: The Fig Tree: Exploring its Fascinating Fig Wasp, Pollination, History, Types of Figs & other Ficus

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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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