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Varieties that Perform well in the Cold Fall vs. the Warm Summer

Updated: Oct 23, 2023



Many of you reading right now are aware of the incredible genetic diversity within fig trees. There are 1000s of varieties in existence and just like us, fig trees are largely defined by their genetics which determine a whole host of characteristics that make each fig variety different than the other. Their genetics determine their size, shape, colors, their eating experience, their harvest season, and so many other factors.

This article is about the varieties that ripen late in the season and the reasons why they are superior to other late-ripening fig varieties.

First, let's explore what characteristics these fig varieties need to have to claim that they are superior and then we’ll discuss the varieties themselves in detail.

Figs are thought of as fall fruit, but by the time the fall rolls around, we miss their peak window for optimal fruit quality. The problem with ripening figs in the fall is that it’s usually much colder than the summer months.

Cold weather's primary influence lies in its ability to slow down the metabolic processes of the fig tree. As the fig tree's metabolism decelerates, so does its ability to ripen its fruit while also making it more susceptible to a host of external threats like rain or pest pressure. They’ll also generally ripen at a lower quality.

So how can we make them ripen faster?


Planting Fig Trees


Most importantly, the fig tree’s location plays a huge part. This is why I and many other fig growers recommend planting your fig tree in the warmest spot you have available. In the spring, your tree will benefit from an early head start. In the fall, it’ll continue to be highly metabolically active.


For more on planting fig trees, check out this detailed guide for success, here.

And what’s equally important if you’re growing figs in containers, is to also move them into the warmest or sunniest location available.

Another way we can have faster-ripening figs (even in the fall) is to choose the right variety.

Hang Time or the “Susceptibility Window”


Believe it or not, some varieties simply ripen their figs faster than others.

This is why I’ve discussed at great length in videos and on this blog, something called the hang time or susceptibility window.

This is simply the length of time (usually described in days) it takes for a fig to become fully ripe. When a fig starts to swell, change color, and become softer, that’s how you know it’s starting to ripen. At this point, it’s still not ripe and is something you don’t want to eat, but over time the neck of the fig softens and the sugars, texture, and flavors fully develop.

Every fig goes through this process. But as I said above, problems occur when this length is time is extended.


How Rain Affects Fruit Quality


Rain, in particular, emerges as a significant challenge during this window. Cold fall weather often brings with it rainy spells, and if a fig remains in its final ripening stage for an extended period, the chances of it getting spoiled by rain increase exponentially. Excess rain will lead to water absorption into a fig’s skin and can dilute a fig's sugar content, leading to fermentation and rotting. Furthermore, rain-induced cracks or splitting in the figs expedite their spoilage, affecting their overall quality and attracting pests like fruit flies, beetles, and wasps.

One workaround is to harvest before each rain. After repeated and thoughtful harvests, you’ll notice that fig varieties with a short hang time will consistently have a higher quality on average.

That is why it's essential to select fig varieties that can ripen quickly.

I’ve created a detailed list of them, which can be found here. Check it out!


However, in this article, I want to focus on another characteristic fig varieties can have that also counteract these challenges.

Let's consider how good the fig tastes even when it's not picked perfectly. Truthfully, I love to let my figs hang longer on the tree to fully develop their flavor and even dry on the tree to concentrate the flavor and sugars further.

I will argue that a lot of figs don't taste very good unless you let them fully develop and intensify. This is exactly why we grow them at home. Fresh figs that you can regularly buy at grocery stores are always insipid. They taste like cardboard. Why? They’re picked at only 50-60% ripeness.

Yeah, maybe you get a good one now and then (maybe that’s why you’ve got into figs actually), but most of them are terrible representations of what a fig really can be.

Now, let's move on to the fig varieties that truly can taste great even at only 50-60% ripeness.

Here are the varieties that fall under this category:

Adriatic or White Adriatic



What is an Adriatic fig? Originally dubbed the White Adriatic, this fig made its mark as one of the pioneering fig varieties cultivated commercially in California, alongside Black Mission. Aside from Dotatto, it’s also the most commonly grown fig in Italy under the name Verdino. On my visit to Tuscany in 2023, I was told by a commercial grower Siro Petracchi that every home at one point had a Verdino tree.

And it’s because of its superior quality of tasting great even when underripe, it’s partly why it excels commercially. You can pick them early while they’re still firm. In a home setting, they also excel as most home growers struggle to pick their figs at peak ripeness.

As a result, this fig has undergone numerous name changes throughout its time, leading to its widespread availability but also many synonyms.

To read about synonyms, check out this article to help with the confusion.

This multitude of names for essentially the same fig is why serious hobbyist fig growers classify them all under the 'Adriatic' banner. Just to give an idea, there's a staggering count of at least 25 different fig varieties synonymous with White Adriatic.

While they might share the same genetic code, believe it or not, it's not rare to spot differences among them due to epigenetic changes and mutations. However, to truly bear the Adriatic badge, a fig should resonate with the original White Adriatic traits.

Remember, it's not just about the exterior and interior colors. Authentic Adriatic figs possess a green skin that encloses a deep-red, strawberry/raspberry-flavored pulp. However, don't be mistaken; just because a fig has green skin and a red interior doesn't automatically qualify it as an Adriatic.

Take the Ponte Tresa, for instance. At a glance, its shape and colors might trick you into believing it's an Adriatic, but I assure you, it's an entirely different story.
Adriatic figs have a distinct shape while on the tree unripe.


The fig below has plumped up a bit in its final ripening stage.


Here is a short list of Adriatic figs. There are more, but I've stopped adding to the list:

Battaglia Green
Calverte
Green Ischia
Harry's Crete
JH Adriatic
Rockaway Green
Sister Madeline's Green Greek
Strawberry
Strawberry Verte
Texas Strawberry
Unknown Lake Spur
Vasilika Sika (VS)
Ventura
Verdino
Verte

Some other photos of Adriatic figs:


And here's a video I published explaining these figs:


Another fig that tastes great underripe is Italian 258. When you get them perfect, it’s right up there with the best-tasting fig varieties because of its similar eating experience to Black Madeira.


Comparative Importance:


  • Black Madeira is the benchmark in flavor for comparing other fig varieties.

  • Despite its distinct identity, many figs share similarities with Black Madeira in name and characteristics.

  • It possesses a unique, rich berry flavor and high sweetness, even without pollination.

  • Italian 258, imported by Todd Kennedy from Italy, also parallels Black Madeira in taste and popularity. It's known for performing well in cooler climates and tasting better at lower ripeness, especially during cold fall seasons.


To read more about the best-tasting fig varieties, click here.

Martinenca Blanca



Hailing from Montserrat Pons' esteemed collection in Mallorca, anyone hungry for further details should consider exploring his book, "Fig Trees of the Balearic Islands," or perhaps visiting his website, here.

Now, even though it wears the 'Martinenca' label, don't be fooled; its flavor profile tells a different tale. Unlike its similarly named fig varieties, the Martinenca and Martinenca Rimada have dark skin and from my perspective have a different flavor. It’s still a mystery to me if Martinenca Blanca falls under that umbrella.

But what truly makes the Martinenca Blanca superior? In terms of output, it’s very productive, rivaling heavyweight producers like the Ronde de Bordeaux and Bourjassotte Grise. But it's not just about the numbers.

The figs from this tree are a treat for the eyes and the palate. They not only present an enticing shape, hanging elegantly on their branches but also possess an impressive eating experience even when underripe – always a good sign for a fig variety.

To read more about Martinenca Blanca, check out this article.

Molla Vermella, Joualle Noire & Beat Ramon


For now, I consider all 3 of these fig varieties synonyms. You’d be lucky to grow any of them.


What immediately stood out with them is their outstanding flavor and quality, even if it hasn’t reached full ripeness. When picked slightly underripe, its eating experience can rival varieties that are fully ripe.

Performance in Poor Weather Conditions:


This quality gives us a great clue about Molla Vermella's potential to thrive in humid conditions without compromising its rich taste. At first glance, new growers might mistake Molla Vermella for the Black Mission fig due to their similar exteriors. Yet, it's the inside of Molla Vermella that truly sets it apart.

Texture and Eating Experience:


Its texture is among the best I've encountered in figs, bearing a similarity to a favorite of mine, the Coll de Dama figs.

To read more about Molla Vermella, check out this article, here.
And Joualle Noire, here.



Classification & Synonyms:


  • Hivernenca is a classification of fig varieties. Several figs like De La Senyora, Lampiera 1, Can Planetes, and others are part of this category.

  • A synonym in the fruit world refers to varieties that are virtually identical but have different names.


Like the Adriatic figs, this is another classification of figs that contain many varieties with different names. Again, see the synonym breakdown I wrote on the blog to clarify any confusion.

Varietal Differences:


  • While many figs under the Hivernenca classification may be genetically similar, they have subtle distinctions, primarily due to epigenetic changes. These differences arise from the figs adapting to various environments over time and undergoing mutations.

  • Pons' writings specify that some varieties, despite being genetically equal, are considered distinct due to traits like maturation, size, and shape.


History:


  • Globally renowned for taste and commonly cultivated.

  • Thrive best in hot, dry climates and are less common in countries like England, France, and Germany.

  • High productivity leads to drooping branches because of the weight of the fruits.


Taste Profile:


  • Known for its distinctive taste resembling Coll de Damas and the berry flavor of Black Madeira.

  • Flavor intensity varies based on the specific Hivernenca type and ripening conditions.

  • A quick ripening period, even in cooler fall weather, leads to a high and consistent quality of the tree's crop.


Like the Adriatic figs, it makes a great commercial option and can be picked underripe and still maintain a great flavor. It also has a very short hang time, which separates it from the other figs in this article. Combine that with its exceptional flavor and rain resistance, it’s quite possibly the best fig variety on this list.

To read more about the Hivernenca figs, check out this article here.


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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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