Figs: An Old California Industry in Transition

Wednesday, July 24, 2013: 1:00 PM
Springs Salon A/B (Desert Springs J.W Marriott Resort )
Louise Ferguson , University of California, Davis, Davis, CA
Ed Stover , US Horticultural Research Laboratory, USDA/ARS, Ft. Pierce, FL
Carlos H. Crisosto , Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA
John Preece , National Clonal Germplasm Repository, USDA–ARS, Davis, CA
The cultivated fig, Ficus carica L., is a tropical to subtropical deciduous tree well adapted to high heat and drought.  Its composite fruit, a syconium, is a shell of receptacle tissue enclosing hundreds of  drupelets with achenes. Figs have a unique pollination biology that co-evolved with their pollinating wasp, Blastophaga psenes L.  Their high sugar content and stability make them easily transportable when dried but also highly desirable as a fresh fruit.  However, due to their short postharvest life, most of the world’s figs are produced and consumed locally.  The commercial industries have focused on dried figs.  Because most cultivars developed locally, it is not surprising there are over 600–1900 species in the genus Ficus. As better postharvest technologies and molecular breeding tools develop, this diversity of figs is being exploited to produce a worldwide commercial fresh fig industry.  The current extensive fig collections vary markedly both bearing habit, fruit characteristics, and postharvest qualities suggesting that breeding efforts to enhance and pyramid desirable traits could provide longer production seasons, improved varieties, and better postharvest quality.   For example, currently new cultivars that produce larger and better Breba figs—the early large first figs of the season produced on last year’s wood—are now marketed fresh.  The combined basic research ethylene biosynthesis and controlled atmosphere research with fresh figs suggests significant manipulation of postharvest quality is increasingly possible. As a result, the traditional dried fig industry is now being eclipsed by a more varied, high quality fresh fig industry.