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Revista Brasileira de Fruticultura

Print version ISSN 0100-2945

Rev. Bras. Frutic. vol.30 no.3 Jaboticabal Sept. 2008

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0100-29452008000300001 

The fig tree

 

 

The fig tree originated from Asia Minor and Syria, in the Mediterranean region, and was first cultured and selected by Arabs and Jews in Southwest Asia. It is one of the oldest plants cultivated in the world since prehistoric times and is considered by ancient people as a symbol of honor and fertility. According to botanists from the American University Harvard, Middle Eastern fig trees were the first species cultivated by humans, 11,400 years ago. Researchers have found the remains of small figs and dry seeds buried at a village in the Jordan Valley located to the north of Jericho. The fruits were well conserved, which indicates they were dried for consumption.

The fig is one of the most popular foods that have been sustaining humanity since the beginning of History. The fruit was used to feed advanced Olympic athletes and was offered to the winner as the first Olympic medal. The tree was described in many passages from the Bible as sacred and respected by man.

During the period of the great discoveries, the fig was disseminated to the Americas. In Brazil, the fig tree was probably introduced by the first colonizing expedition in 1532 in the State of São Paulo.

Botanically named Ficus carica L., the fig tree belongs to the Moraceae family. It reaches from 3 to 7 meters high. In Brazil, the plant is a shrub due to the employed cultivation techniques, especially annual pruning for fructification, followed by removal of buds, conditioning the development of a certain number of branches per year.

It is a deciduous plant that presents fruit and vegetative buds in the branches, next to the leaf axils, during the growth season. The species F. carica is gynodioecious and has two distinct plant forms: caprifig, which is monoecious, and fig, which is dioecious.

Named achene, the true fig fruit is a result of pollination and syngamy. The fig tree cultivated in Brazil is characterized by flowers inside a juicy receptacle called syconium,which represents the fig itself, parthenocarpically developed.

In Brazil, economic exploration of the fig tree only started from 1910, when it was first commercially cultivated in Valinhos region, State of São Paulo, where crops are restricted to only one cultivar - 'Roxo de Valinhos'. This cultivar was from a region close to the Adriatic Sea in Italy and was introduced in Brazil, in the region of Valinhos, at the beginning of the 20th century by the Italian Lino Bussato.

'Roxo de Valinhos' fig plant is vigorous, productive and adapted to the drastic pruning system; this practice was adopted to help control pests and diseases. This is the only cultivar that has economic value due to its rusticity, vigor, and productivity; in addition, it is a product sensitive to handling and easily perishable. Production can be directed to industry to the manufacture of green fig compote, jam and crystallized fig, or for consumption of raw fruits.

The fig tree is commercially cultivated in the Brazilian states of Rio Grande do Sul (39.42%), São Paulo (35.15%), and Minas Gerais (18.75%). In the State of São Paulo, the production is mainly destined for the market of raw fruits, whereas in the other states it is directed to industrial processing. According to data from the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture (2008), Brazil produced 26,476 t figs in 2006, in a 3,020 ha area, resulting in an average national productivity of 8.8 t/ha.

The culture is interesting for Brazil as it may lead Brazilian exportations to be incorporated between harvests in Turkey, which is the world's main producer of figs. Brazil is a great supplier of figs to the world; 20 to 30% of the total volume produced in the country is destined for exportation. Commercialization is done in boxes containing 1.6 Kg of the fruit.

In the State of São Paulo, the culture reaches approximately 510 thousand feet in a 330 ha area and is a predominantly familiar activity in small areas. More than 80% of the fig production in the state is concentrated in Campinas region, mainly in Valinhos County, where the culture initially developed.

 

Sarita Leonel
Professor of Fruit Crops/Horticulture Department of Faculdade de Ciências Agronômicas
Universidade Estadual Paulista
Caixa Postal 237 - 18.610.307. Botucatu.São Paulo. Brazil.
sarinel@fca.unesp.br