The world of fruit is divided up into nice friendly categories: stone fruits, pome fruits, berries, citrus fruits, ect.. And pretty much all the fruits we know and love find a happy home in one of them. Except for the fig, which exists on the margins of fruit society in the category known as “other”. The reason, because the “fruit” of a fig tree isn’t really a fruit. It’s a modified flower. An unopened bud is really what it is, and all those little seeds? They’re not really seeds at all. Rather they are tiny female flowers that need to be polinated if the fig is to reproduce.
But then how do the flowers get pollinated if they’re on the INSIDE of the fruit? you may wonder. The answer is because the fig fruit (technically known as a syconium) isn’t entirely sealed. It’s got a little hole on the far end called the ostiole through which a tiny, super-specialized insect called the Fig Wasp gains entry. It crawls into the ostiole and into and around the little female florets, where it lays eggs and fertilizes the florets with pollen picked up from other figs.
Er, hang on…does that mean what I think it means? Um, yes. Whenever you eat a fig you’re eating unhatched wasp eggs. Though they’re so tiny they might as well be bacteria. No big whup.
Here it’s interesting to note that, er…”fruiting” fig trees can be either hermaphroditic, called caprifigs, or female. The female trees are the ones that produce the nice plump fruit we eat. Caprifigs, as the name implies, produce dry little fruits whose only real use is as goat food. Yet it’s only the caprifig fruit that’s suited to incubating and hatching fig wasp eggs. Why? Well it all has to do with the shape of those little interior flowers. In female figs the florets are shaped in such a way that any wasp eggs laid among them won’t develop and hatch. And no wasps means no pollination, and no pollination means no fruit. Thus in order for female fig trees to bear fruit, they need to be grown alongside the hermaphrodidic caprifig variety. That way everybody has enough wasps (and wasp eggs) to go around.