This is a fig that you don't hear much about. It's called Little Ruby. After not being that impressed with the fruit quality the first couple of years I was growing it, I decided to keep it but only because it's truly a dwarf fig. I believed there might be value in that trait for a potential rootstock candidate. If we define vigor by measuring the diameter of the wood. The smaller diameter, the more dwarf it is. Little Ruby certainly has wood that's at least in the bottom 5 of all varieties I've grown in terms of vigor. 4 years after having it planted in the ground with almost no pruning, the tree is barely 4 ft in height. Truly remarkable!
What also makes it a strong rootstock candidate is its hardiness. I had a strong hunch that Little Ruby is somehow related to Hardy Chicago. Not in the way that it's a mutation or shows epigenetic differences like some others we commonly see under the Hardy Chicago umbrella, but instead I thought it could be a seedling. The fruit tastes similar, looks similar, the leaf pattern is similar and the hardiness is even similar. The major differences is in the shape of the fruit, Little Ruby's open eye, the taste is far from exactly the same (although similar) and the dwarf characteristic is way different. Even if it's not a seedling of HC (the tree is still quite hardy), I don't think it's out of the question to use this as a dwarfing rootstock in zone 8's or warm zone 7's. The idea of a low maintenance fig tree for the average homeowner is certainly true for this variety. There is very little pruning or care involved.
Some other candidates worth testing for rootstock purposes are Nerucciolo d'Elba, Verdino del Nord (VR) & a true dwarf strain of Pastiliere. These are all quite dwarfed and hardy. Problem is.. you can't argue with the fruit from any of those and you'd probably be crazy to use them as rootstock.
After trying to find the true origin of this fig, I came across this piece of information from One Green World: "Little Ruby was selected by retired biologist Denny McGaughy of Olympian fig fame! Thanks Denny!" Apparently it is indeed a seedling and after further research I learned that it is indeed a seedling of Hardy Chicago. How interesting!
I think what really made me dislike this fig early on was the fact that it was so weak. Perhaps a bit difficult to establish in a container, but it's really compounded by the fact that this tree can only really be found by big online mail order nurseries sold as a tissue culture (TC). Across the board, tissue cultured figs are really missing something their counterparts grown by cutting have. Yeah... TC plants are supposed to be free of viruses like FMV, but it's really a huge disadvantage I've noticed when propagated this way. Now that the tree is in ground and it's been a few years, the tree has really changed. The figs are double the size, the breba crop is plentiful and the main crop is very early. Super early in fact. Among the earliest ripening only 65 days after fruit set. That's pretty special.
In terms of the fruit quality, I'm not gonna say that it's the best tasting fig I have, but it's at least a solid 4.5/5 when shriveled on the tree. The figgy flavor is quite high at that point and to me is very enjoyable and unique. It has a more intense dried fruit flavor than any other fig I've tried and it's certainly a flavor profile I don't grow enough.
Other than the almost painful & difficult time establishing this variety, there are many other downsides to Little Ruby. One of the biggest problems is its open eye. And it is OPEN. The interior is therefore always exposed to the outside elements making spoilage a real and frequent possibility from rain. Additionally, if grown in humid environments, this fig can form mold at the eye and due to the way the figs hang and because of their shape, they also almost always have their the eye pointed towards the sky when they are swelling. This upwards pointed eye allows rain to easily enter the inside of the fig. They do eventually sag down, but for a good portion of the swelling process when the fig is vulnerable to climatic events, the eye is pointing upwards.
The skin is its other weakness. Water hits the skin of the fig and it absorbs into the fruit lowering the brix and ruining fruit quality. This occurs much easier than other varieties as Little Ruby's skin acts like a sponge while others have a skin like a waterproof jacket.
Because of all of this, you could imagine that this fig should not be grown anywhere humid, but believe it or not it has one of the best qualities I look for in a fig. A short hang time or susceptibility window. This short window allows the figs to ripen very quickly. This way you can pick them at a high quality before the rain and shortly after the rains end. It has all the wrong qualities except for the one that matters most and as a result produces very high quality figs during a time that the overwhelming majority of figs will not. It's truly special in this way and has become one of the best figs that I grow.
Little Ruby Fig Tree
Why choosing the right fig variety matters
Choosing the right fig variety can make all the difference in so many positive or even negative ways. A variety that is well suited to your climate and taste preferences will ensure that your getting the fig experience that you deserve.
It's heartbreaking when you put years of work into a tree to finally realize that it's just not suited to your location because it will rarely produce high quality figs and in some cases, may never produce fruit that's even edible!
Fig varieties are very location specific because they're so highly subjected to their environment while they're ripening. Unlike many other fruits, the fig can be destroyed in its final ripening stage. It's a soft fruit that can absorb water into its skin causing cracking, splitting, mold & fermentation all because the inside of the fruit gets exposed to the outside elements of nature.
An apple has a hard covering. A persimmon has a hard covering. Berries and other soft fleshed fruits are also susceptible to bad weather conditions, but they have a short window of time in which they're soft and ready to be picked. Figs can be soft hanging on the tree for 5, 10 or even 15 days!
How to choose the right fig variety for your climate
When choosing a fig variety, it's important to consider the climate in your area during the winter, summer and fall.
Some fig varieties are more tolerant of cold weather and others can be grown in climates that have mild summers because of their reliable breba production or their early main crop harvest period.
Others are better suited for humid climates because they don't need to hang as long on the tree and they have a skin that acts like a waterproof jacket. The water just slides right off.
Others are better suited to warmer climates and have the ability to taste incredible even in 100-110F temperatures.
If you want fig variety recommendations, read through the description of each fig variety carefully, or better yet, don't be afraid to contact me. In your message, include your growing zone, location, annual rainfall, and how you want to grow them.
To read more about choosing the right fig variety, click here: