AskDefine | Define fig

Dictionary Definition



1 a diagram or picture illustrating textual material; "the area covered can be seen from Figure 2" [syn: figure]
2 Mediterranean tree widely cultivated for its edible fruit [syn: common fig, common fig tree, Ficus carica]
3 a Libyan terrorist group organized in 1995 and aligned with al-Qaeda; seeks to radicalize the Libyan government; attempted to assassinate Qaddafi [syn: Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Al-Jama'a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah bi-Libya, Libyan Fighting Group, Libyan Islamic Group]
4 fleshy sweet pear-shaped yellowish or purple multiple fruit eaten fresh or preserved or dried [also: figging, figged]

User Contributed Dictionary




fig (plural: figs)
  1. A tree or shrub of the genus Ficus that is native mainly to the tropics and produces a fruit of the same name.
  2. The fruit of the fig, pear-shaped and containing many small seeds.


tree or shrub


fig or fig.
  1. Figure (diagram or illustration)

See also

Extensive Definition

Ficus is a genus of about 800 species of woody trees, shrubs, vines, epiphytes, and hemi-epiphytes in the family Moraceae. Collectively known as figs, they are native throughout the tropics with a few species extending into the warm temperate zone. The so-called Common Fig (F. carica) is a temperate species from the Middle East and southern Europe, which has been widely cultivated from ancient times for its fruit, also referred to as figs. The fruit of most other species are also edible though they are usually of only local economic importance or eaten as bushfood. However, they are extremely important food resources for wildlife. Figs are also of paramount cultural importance throughout the tropics, both as objects of worship and for their many practical uses. Among the more famous species are the Sacred Fig tree (Peepul, Bodhi, Bo, or Po, Ficus religiosa) and the Banyan Fig (Ficus benghalensis). The oldest living plant of known planting date is a Ficus religiosa tree known as the Sri Maha Bodhi planted in the temple at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by King Tissa in 288 BC. The Common Fig tree (Ficus carica) is the first plant cited in the Bible. In Genesis 3:7 is described how Adam and Eve cover themselves with fig leaves when they discover that they are naked. The fig fruit is also included in the list of food found in the Promised Land, according to the Torah (Deut. 8). They are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates (representing the honey).
Figs occupy a wide variety of ecological niches. Take, for example, the Common Fig, a small temperate deciduous tree whose fingered fig leaf is well-known in art and iconography; or the Weeping Fig (F. benjamina) a hemi-epiphyte with thin tough leaves on pendulous stalks adapted to its rain forest habitat; or the Creeping Fig (F. pumila), a vine whose small, hard leaves form a dense carpet of foliage over rocks or garden walls. Moreover, figs with different plant habits have undergone adaptive radiation in different biogeographic regions, often leading to very high levels of alpha diversity. In the tropics, it is quite common to find that Ficus is the most species-rich plant genus in a particular forest. In Asia as many as 70 or more species can co-exist.
Although identifying many of the species can be difficult, figs as a group are relatively easy to recognize. Often the presence of aerial roots or the general Gestalt of the plant will give them away. Their fruit are also distinct. The fig fruit is in fact an enclosed inflorescence, sometimes referred to as a syconium, an urn-like structure lined on the inside with the fig's tiny flowers. The unique fig pollination system, involving tiny, highly specific wasps, know as fig wasps that enter these closed inflorescences to both pollinate and lay their own eggs, has been a constant source of inspiration and wonder to biologists. Finally, there are three vegetative traits that together are unique to figs. All figs possess a white to yellowish sap (latex), some in copious quantities; the twig has paired stipules or a circular stipule scar if the stipules have fallen off; and the lateral veins at the base of the leaf are steep, that is they form a tighter angle with the midrib than the other lateral veins, a feature referred to as a "tri-veined".
Unfortunately, there are no unambiguous older fossils of Ficus. However, current molecular clock estimates indicate that Ficus is a relatively ancient genus being at least 60 million years old.
Additionally, the fig tree has profoundly influenced culture through several religious traditions. It is one of the two sacred trees of Islam, and in East Asia, figs are pivotal in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Siddhārtha Gautama, the Supreme Buddha, is traditionally held to have found bodhi (enlightenment) while meditating under a Sacred Fig (F. religiosa). The same species was Ashvastha, the "world tree" of Hinduism. The Plaksa Pra-sravana was said to be a fig tree between the roots of which the Sarasvati River sprang forth; it is usually held to be a Sacred Fig but more probably seems to be a Wavy-leaved Fig (F. infectoria).

Fig pollination and fig fruit

seealso Common Fig The fig is commonly thought of as fruit, but it is properly the flower of the fig tree. It is in fact a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass. The genus Dorstenia, also in the figs family (Moraceae), exhibits similar tiny flowers arranged on a receptacle but in this case the receptacle is a more or less flat, open surface.
A fig "fruit" is derived from a specially adapted type of inflorescence (an arrangement of multiple flowers). What is commonly called the "fruit" of a fig is actually a specialized structure- or accessory-fruit called a syconium. In this case, it is an involuted, nearly closed receptacle with many small flowers arranged on the inner surface. Thus the actual flowers of the fig are unseen unless the fig is cut open. In Chinese the fig is called "wú huā guǒ" or "fruit without flower". In Bengali, where the Common Fig is called dumur, it is referenced in a proverb: tumi jeno dumurer phool hoe gele ("You have become [invisible like] the dumur flower").
The syconium often has a bulbous shape with a small opening (the ostiole) at the outward end that allows access to pollinators. The flowers are pollinated by very small wasps that crawl through the opening in search of a suitable place to lay eggs. Without this pollinator service fig trees cannot reproduce by seed. In turn, the flowers provide a safe haven and nourishment for the next generation of wasps. This accounts for the frequent presence of wasp maggots in the fruit. Technically, a fig fruit proper would be one of the many tiny mature, seed-bearing flowers found inside one fig - if you cut open a fresh fig, the flowers will appear as fleshy "threads", each bearing a single seed inside.
The fig plants can be monoicous (hermaphrodite) or dioicous (hermaphrodite and female) (see Berg & Corner, 2005).
All the native fig trees of the American continent are monoicous, as well as the species F. benghalensis, F. microcarpa, F. religiosa, F. benjamina, F. elastica, F. lyrata, F. sycomorus, F. macrophylla, etc.
On the other hand the Common Fig (Ficus carica) is a dioicous plant, as well as, F. aspera, F. auriculata, F. deltoidea, F. pseudopalma, F. pumila, etc.
The hermaphrodite Common Figs are called "inedible figs" or caprifigs; in traditional Common Fig culture in the Mediterranean region, they were considered food for goats (Capra aegagrus). In the female fig trees, the male flower parts fail to develop; they produce the "edible figs". Fig wasps grow in Common Fig caprifigs but not in the female syconiums because the female flower is too long for the wasp to successfully lay her eggs in them. Nonetheless, the wasp pollinates the flower with pollen from the fig it grew up in. When the wasp dies, it is broken down by enzymes inside the fig. Fig wasps are not known to transmit any diseases harmful to humans.
When a caprifig ripens, another caprifig must be ready to be pollinated. In temperate climes, wasps hibernate in figs, and there are distinct crops. Common Fig caprifigs have three crops per year; edible figs have two. The first (breba) produces small fruits called olynth. Some parthenocarpic cultivars of Common Figs do not require pollination at all, and will produce a crop of figs (albeit sterile) in the absence of caprifigs or fig wasps.
There is typically only one species of wasp capable of fertilizing the flowers of each species of fig, and therefore plantings of fig species outside of their native range results in effectively sterile individuals. For example, in Hawaii, some 60 species of figs have been introduced, but only four of the wasps that fertilize them have been introduced, so only four species of figs produce viable seeds there. This is an example of mutualism, i.e. one organism (fig plant) can not propagate itself without the other one (fig wasp).
The intimate association between fig species and their wasp pollinators, along with the high incidence of a one-to-one plant-pollinator ratio have long led scientists to believe that figs and wasps are a clear example of coevolution. Morphological and reproductive behavior evidence, such as the correspondence between fig and wasp larvae maturation rates, have been cited as support for this hypothesis for many years.. Additionally, recent genetic and molecular dating analyses have shown a very close correspondence in the character evolution and speciation phylogenies of these two clades..

Selected species

List of famous fig trees



  • (2002): Figueiras no Brasil. Editora UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro.
  • (2005): Moraceae. Flora Malesiana. Ser. I, vol. 17, part 2.
  • (2005): Figs and the diversity of tropical rain forests. Bioscience 55(12): 1053-1064.
  • (2006a): Early Domesticated Fig in the Jordan Valley. Science 312(5778): 1372. (HTML abstract) Supporting Online Material
  • (1999): Ancient trees: Trees that live for 1000 years. London, Collins & Brown Limited, pp192.
  • (2005): 60 million years of co-divergence in the fig-wasp symbiosis. Proceeding of the Royal Society of London Series B Biological Sciences 272(1581): 2593-2599. PDF fulltext
  • (2001): Fig-eating by vertebrate frugivores: a global review. Biological Reviews 76: 529-572.
fig in Catalan: Ficus
fig in Danish: Figen
fig in German: Feigen
fig in Modern Greek (1453-): Συκιά
fig in Spanish: Ficus
fig in Esperanto: Figoj
fig in Persian: انجیر
fig in French: Figuier
fig in Korean: 무화과속
fig in Croatian: Smokve
fig in Indonesian: Beringin
fig in Italian: Ficus
fig in Malay (macrolanguage): Pokok Ara
fig in Dutch: Ficus
fig in Japanese: イチジク属
fig in Norwegian: Fiken
fig in Polish: Figowiec
fig in Portuguese: Figueira
fig in Russian: Фикус
fig in Albanian: Ficus
fig in Simple English: Fig
fig in Serbian: Смоква
fig in Finnish: Viikunat
fig in Swedish: Fikusar
fig in Chinese: 榕屬

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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