Fig-Tree, or Ficus. L. a genus of plants, comprising forty-three species, of which one only is cultivated in this country, namely the. carica, or common fig-tree. It is propagated either by suckers arising from the roots ; by layers ; or by cuttings. The first are to be taken off as low down as possible ; all ragged and superfluous parts being removed, and the tops left entire, especially if intended for standards. These are to be planted in nursery-rows, two or three inches apart 5 or, they may be set in the spot where they are intended to remain. They are then suffered to branch out and form a head, care being taken that the branches never be shortened: for, as the figs are always produced on the upper part of the young shoots, if these be cut off, no fruit can be expected.
The best season for raising fig-trees by layers, is in autumn ; the young pliable lower shoots are first to be selected from the moist fruitful branches, which are to be laid in the usual way; the body of the layers being covered with soil to the depth of three or four inches, and the top kept as upright and entire as possible. In the succeeding, autumn, they will be fit to be separated from the parent-stock, when they may be planted either in the nursery, or in the place of their ultimate destination.
The time for propagating by cuttings, is either in autumn, or at any time during the month of March. The shoots to be seltcted for this purpose, ought to be those of the preceding summer; short, and strong ; from 12 to 15 inches in length; and to have at least an inch of the two years wood at their base; the tops being left entire. These cuttings are to be set 6 or 8 inches deep, in a bed of good soil, in rows 2 feet apart; and, if they be planted in autumn, it will be requisite to protect the tops from the severity of the winter, with any kind of loose, long litter.
Fig-trees require a free exposure to the rays of the sun, at the side of an espalier: they ought to be frequently watered; and, according to BECHSTEIN, wood-ashes are for them a more proper manure than dung. Towards the winter of our colder climate, the root of the fig-tree ought to be somewhat loosened, and the trunk bent down in the form of a bow, and covered with straw, to protect it from the severity of the frost.
There is a mode of increasing and ripening the fruit of the domestic fig-tree, by means of in-sects : it is practised in the Levant, and known by the name of capri-fication. The principal of those inserts appears to be the cynips psenes that deposits its eggs in the rigs; from these arise small worms which, when covered with the pollen or flower-dust, migrate from the male flowers, take shelter in the female ones, and thus effect fructification. In consequence of this natural process, the figs not only ripen more speedily, but also become much larger; so that a fig-tree which formerly produced about 25 lb. of ripe fruit, now yields nearly 300lb. - later experience has proved that caprification may be successfully imitated in gardens, by wounding the buds of the figs with a straw or feather dipped in sweet oil. - Bechstein advises a drop of olive oil to be introduced into the calyx of the figs when half ripe, and to repeat this unction every four or five days : as it will remarkably promote the growth and maturing of the fruit. - Plums and pears also, when wounded by insects; have been observed to ripen at a more early period, and the pulp about the wounded part to acquire a more delicious flavour.
The principal varieties of the common fig are, the brown, or chesnut coloured Ischia fig; the murrey, or brown Naples fig; the common blue or purple fig; and lastly, the Turkey fig, which is in the greatest estimation, and is imported in considerable quantities into this country..
Figs contain a large portion of mucilage, and a small quantity of oil. They are grateful to the stomach, and more easy of digestion than any other sweet fruit ; they abound with saccharine matter, and are very nutritious, though they are apt to occasion flatulency, when eaten without bread, or oilier mealy substances. - A decoction of figs affords excellent gargles to cleause the throat and mouth: this fruit also forms an ingredient in lenitive electuaries, and pectoral draughts; it is likewise applied externally to soften, digest, and promote maturation. When in an unripe state, figs, as well as the whole tree, yield an acrid, milky liquor, which, if taken as a medicine, proves both purgative and emetic ; but externally affords a mild caustic: hence it is frequently employed for the removal of warts. This juice has also been substituted for sympathetic ink; as the characters written with, it, do not appear visible till they are exposed to a fire.
In dyeing, a decoction of the green branches and leave of the fig-tree imparts, according to Suc-Kow and Dambourney, a deep gold colour, of a brown-reddish shade. The latter observes, that the young branches communicated a delicate brown, to cloth prepared with a solution of bismuth ; but the leaves alone yielded a very deep yellow colour. It is remarkable, that the substances dyed with any part of the fig-tree, retained a very agreeable fragrance, resembling that of the tuberose, even after being washed and kept for five months. Hence they might be usefully employed as ingredients in other dyeing drugs, which possess a less agreeable, and sometimes offensive, smell. - The wood of the fig-tree is almost indestructible, and was formerly much employed in the East, for the preservation of embalmed bodies.