This ancient fruit, now found in about all subtropical climates, also seems to have originated in central Asia, and to this day a large part of the commercial dried figs found in every civilized market come from Syria, Turkey in Asia, and Algeria, mainly. In Asia Minor, Turkestan, Persia, and in fact over a large part of Asia, it is a staple food-plant of the people and has been for centuries. Yet the varieties grown in the Gulf States, and mainly as yet in California, were introduced from Spain or south Europe or are seedlings from this race known to botanists as Ficus carica, variety Hortensis. These varieties are grown as home fruits, but they have never attained a commercial status in a fresh state or dried, except for local use and shipment at a price less than is obtained for the Oriental varieties.
At present the White Adriatic variety is capable of self-pollination and has proven most profitable for drying on account of its color and quality. The California black is also widely planted and has proven hardy and productive. It is a popular table fig and excellent when dried, but the popular demand does not favor a dark-colored variety. Yet this Hortensis class includes the finest dessert and preserving varieties grown in this country.
What is known to scientists as Ficus carica Smyrniana has been, and still is, the leading commercial type of figs known to commerce over the civilized world. The typical white varieties of this class come largely from Smyrna on the Mediterranean. The locality of this region is peculiar, giving it a soft, moist, and very mild climate. The southerly winds are tempered by the great inland sea and the northerly winds are tempered by the Black Sea and mountain ranges. In this soft, warm climate a race of the fig has been developed in time that will not develop perfect fruit without pollination by the Capri or wild fig. The pollinating process has long been called "caprification." The fig-wasp of that climate breeds on the wild fig. Branches of the wild fig in flower are placed in the tops of the fig-bushes and the insects puncture the receptacle and in the act pollinate the fruit. The researches of Dr. Eisen, of California, and others have fully established the fact that the old idea of caprification only means a process of pollination. In Fresno, California, the Smyrna figs have been hand-pollinated, thus proving conclusively that full crops can be secured without the aid of the fig-wasp. But hand pollination is too expensive for commercial work, and the fig-wasp has been introduced for trial in the orchards of Smyrna figs that have been planted. The growing of this class of figs is yet experimental. If pollination can be secured a new industry will soon be started, resulting in home-grown dried figs, dried and packed more systematically than ever has been done on the Mediterranean.
It is not probable that there is to be found a better class of figs on earth for drying than those from Smyrna. But the uncertainty of pollination by insects leads to the query: Are there not varieties that do not require pollen from the wild fig for pollination in central Asia that are as large and good in quality as the White Smyrna ? While attending the great commercial fair at Nishni Novgorod in 1882, this subject was discussed with my associate, Mr. Charles Gibb. Mr. Gibb had previously spent one season in Asiatic Turkey, and had become interested in the fig question. At the great fair we found tons of dried figs from Smyrna, Turkestan, Persia, and Syria. After careful testing our decision was that white varieties from west Turkestan were superior to those from Smyrna. Upon inquiry we found that the fig-wasp was not known in that region, and they had known no need of its services. If perfect varieties of size and quality can be secured from Turkestan the trees would prove much hardier than those from Smyrna and give less trouble in every way.
The query also arises whether the seeds of the White Smyrna pollinated by the White Adriatic might not give varieties profitable for drying. This is possible and is worthy of trial.
Fig-growing at the North is interesting if not profitable. Of course the trees are not hardy enough to stand the winters without protection. A chief interest comes from its wonderful tenacity of life. On its borderland of growth, if it freezes down in winter it starts again from any unfrozen part and often bears fruit the next season. In the prairie States it is often grown by laying down and covering quite deeply in winter. When raised in the spring close observation will show the forming fruit. It will also start fruit in the cellar when taken in for winter protection. As a curiosity it is grown often by taking it up in the fall and burying the roots in a corner of the cellar. When replanted in the spring it again takes up growth and fruitage in a way that no Northern tree can equal. If desirable, the culture of the fig ■without winter protection can be extended farther north by importing the varieties grown on the 40th parallel in Turkestan. Dr. Albert Regel says : "The culture of the fig begins at the foot of western Karatan and the culture of the best varieties crosses the Hindoo Kush in a southern direction. But in Darvas the hardy figs form high shrubs, with a stem thicker than one's arm, which require no protection. The fruit is small and is used fresh. The drying and pressing of figs commercially is practised in more western districts of Turkestan." At the fair at Nishni Novgorod, figs of fair size and good quality were shown grown as far north as Bokhara in central Asia. These varieties probably could be grown up to the 40th parallel in the prairie States.
It should be added that the fig grows readily from hardwood cuttings like the grape.