Figs – Wasps and Pollination

Q: Some time back I listened to a radio caller asking about wasps that pollinate figs. Based on what I heard, I told my sister that the wasps only pollinate the Mission figs that grow in California. My sister disagreed and now my research says all figs are pollinated by a wasps. Is Walter wrong this time?

A: I’m not always right, but I’m right often enough to keep my hopes up.

I was wrong to say ‘Mission’ figs depend on wasps; it’s the ‘Calimyrna’ fig that I was thinking of on radio. “Common” figs, including ‘Brown Turkey”, ‘Celeste’, Brunswick’ and ‘Mission’ do not need pollination.

Figs certainly have flowers, but their method of fruit production is different from any other plant. We all know that “normal” fruits (apple, pear, peach, etc) have flowers in spring. Individual fruit develop in summer from those flowers. A fig produces many pouch-like syconia on its branches, which have hundreds of female flowers inside them. The flowers in our Southern figs like ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Celeste’ do not need pollination in order to swell and produce sugary pulp.

“Caducous” figs, including ‘Smyrna’, ‘Calimyrna’ and ‘Marabout’ require a tiny wasp to crawl inside and perform pollination. ‘Smyrna’ fig is grown commercially on great acreage in California.

An Internet myth posits that the crunchiness of Fig Newtons comes from wasp eggs but, in truth, fig wasps are digested away by fig enzymes.

The Incredible Edible Fig

fig fruit fig green