Fig trees originally come from Asia minor and the Mediterranean, according to the University of Florida. When the tree was brought to the West, early crops failed because of the lack of fig wasps. Fig wasps and the fig tree have a beneficial relationship, and neither could survive without the other.
Fig fruit is fleshy and has a sweet taste. The resin-like flavor of the fruit comes from the unfertilized ovaries. There are four fruit types grown Caprifigs, Smyrna, San Pedro and common types. Smyrna has only female flowers and requires pollination from a Caprifig tree. San Pedro has two sets of leaves and bears a crop of wood that does not require pollination, while any new wood requires pollination from the fig wasp. Common fig types do not require wasps to pollinate.
Fig and Wasp
Fig trees and wasps have a relationship that the Iziko South Africa museum calls mutualism. Both the fig and wasp require each other for a productive life. Only the wasp can pollinate fig tree, and the fig tree in turn provides a place for the fig wasp to make its nest. Each individual fig tree variety has its own species of fig wasp. This species specificity has evolved over millions of years.
Fig Wasp Pollination
Fig wasps work quickly to pollinate because their life span only extends a few days. Fig wasps enter the fig flower. Its thin head and thorax is shaped to specifically enter the fig tree flower. The wasp has backward facing teeth that grab onto the inside of the flower to prevent slipping.
After the flower is entered by the wasp, the wasp moves to a fig fruit and burrows its way inside. As it moves through the fruit, it deposits pollen on the stigmas and lays its eggs. After the eggs mature and hatch in three to 20 weeks, the males burrow their way out of the fruit, leaving an open hole for the females to escape. The process continues again.
Figs are allowed to ripen on the tree, but must be picked as they ripen to prevent decay on the tree. Souring of the fruit on the tree promotes attacks from the dried fruit beetle. Daily harvests might be required.