This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
TO the uneducated eye the fig is a wonder. The fruit seems to come out in the place where the flowers ought to be; and the appearance is that there are no flowers before the fruit, as there is in other plants. It was the habit in past ages to attribute something miraculous to every appearance out of the ordinary course of nature, and to take the occasion to connect these marvelous appearances with some individual whom they wished the world to venerate and esteem. So this fig tree marvel came to be associated with the flight of Mary into Egypt with the infant Jesus.
The Spaniards tell us that in her flight she sheltered herself under a fig tree. In recompense for the security afforded, she blessed the tree, and bestowed upon it marvelous power. It produces two crops a year, and this is one of the blessings then conferred. But in order that the tree might be fertilized - for even in those days it was known that flowers were of two sexes - the tree put forth, by her command, one magnificent white flower of rare beauty. It was pure white and shot forth rays of phosphorescent loveliness. This fructifies the whole tree, and renders any other flower unnecessary.
This flowering still continues every year on one night only - St. John's night. It opens for a few minutes at midnight, and whoever could see or secure this flower, at the expense of the whole future of fig culture, would possess himself of a charm which would enable him to procure anything he might desire in this world.
The Virgin Mary, knowing this, caused the fig, for this evening of its flowering, to be guarded by all kinds of horrible things. There are snakes, lizards, bloated toads, birds of ill omen, wild beasts and venomous reptiles of every description, so that no one has ever been able to get near enough to see this miraculous and wonderful flower.
The story is firmly believed in by all those old Latin races, whose chance for life is cast in those regions where the fig-tree dwells: and has always been a sufficient reason to them why the fig-tree has never any flower, as they think.
What a pity it is that the cold hand of science is so ever ready to crush to death all these beautiful stories. It tells us, in spite of these lovely traditions of ages past, that the fig has flowers like unto any other plant, but the flowers are inside what we call the fruit. All flowers rest on something.
Take the apple for instance. The lowest are set on small globular productions. The floral parts, the stamens, rise out of the center of the globe; and after they die away this globe swells and becomes the apple which we eat. The fig is formed pretty much in the same way.
The little globe which we see pushing from the axle of the leaf, and which afterwards becomes the fruit, is filled with floral parts, just as we see in the apple; but these parts never project up the center so as to be seen by vulgar eyes. There is a small orifice at the apex through which the pollen is drawn, and that is all that is known to any one except of the more curious class.
The curiosity is rewarded, on breaking open a young flower, by finding it filled with a pink, spongy substance; each of the little projections composing it being found by a small pocket lens to be a small flower. Thus the mystery ceases. The fig is really a little community in which hundreds of individual flowers dwell, and thus ends in hard cold facts the mystery of the Virgin and fig-tree. - Selected.