Sunday, August 19, 2001

Figs

The fig tree at our home in Tokyo bore few fruit this year. That's because, we had the tree, which had grown a little too much, pruned at the beginning of the summer. They took off a lot of the branches with the fruit buds on it at that time. Still, we had some small fruit on the tree, and last week my wife picked the biggest, about 4 cm in diameter and 5 cm long, and put it in the refrigerator. Figs are very unusual--although they have no blossoms, fruit suddenly appears.

You can now find the large figs grown in Aichi Prefecture being sold in the supermarkets and fruit specialty stores throughout Tokyo. When I went to Uji City in Kyoto for the Seicho-No-Ie Urabon Ceremonies, I had some beautifully purple ripened figs that were just as big as those, about 7-8 cm in diameter and length. We heard that they were grown in the neighboring city of Johyo City. It had a refined, delicately sweet taste, and there was a pleasant crunching sensation of the little seeds as you chewed. We were talking about this at breakfast, and my mother asked rather demandingly, "Are you going to draw it?" Since I had drawn a picture of a fig when we came to Uji at about the same time last year, I really wanted to draw something else, but I answered somewhat vaguely, "I'm trying to decide what to draw?.." But then, after our meal, she had someone send 3-4 figs to our room, so I couldn't let it go.

Figs are actually the oldest cultivated fruit in the world. They were first found in either Turkey or the southern part of Arabia, and, from there, were widely cultivated in Israel and along the Mediterranean coast from about 2000 BC. The passage in the chapter on "Genesis" in the Bible where Adam and Eve, after having partaken of the "forbidden fruit" realize that they are naked and "they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" is widely known. So, it follows that there was a fig tree in the "Garden of Eden"" It's said that fig trees came into Japan, through Nagasaki, at the beginning of the 17th Century. Although I said that fig trees have no blossoms on their branches, the flowers are inverted and actually develop inside the fruit. The seeds are drupes, or the real fruit. The many tiny flowers produce the crunchy little seeds that give figs their unique texture. It's really amazing.

Pollination is done by a tiny wasp. This stingerless insect, no bigger than a gnat, enters the open "eye" at the bottom of the fig, and unwittingly pollinates it by brushing pollen onto the female flowers. The tiny wasp then exits the fig to pollinate other fig flowers. However, these wasps cannot survive in the weather in Japan. I wonder how they reproduce then? If it's done by cuttings, then that means that all the fig trees in Japan are clones.

- MT

2 comments:

Grace said...

Some types of fig trees are self pollenating so they don't need wasps to reproduce.

Masanobu said...

grace,

Thanks for the comment. I didn't know that some fig trees are self-pollenating. That sounds conceivable...

- MT