Fig trees (Ficus carica) are members of a huge genus that encompasses perhaps as many as 1,000 species, according to Julie F. Morton of Purdue University. The tree itself is rather small, averaging only 20 feet in height. Fig trees can be trained to grow on one slender trunk or several trunks. This warm-climate tree is deciduous and features unique fruit in that the figs are composed of edible stem tissue. Fig trees can be sorted into four broad groups, each with many cultivars.
The common fig is the most popular fig tree grown in America. The figs are produced without pollination and have no true seeds. The two most popular cultivars, or varieties of the common fig are the brown turkey and Celeste. The brown turkey produces large to medium-sized, mildly sweet figs in May, and then again in late June. Their fig production is prolific.
The Celeste cultivar produces smaller figs that are pear shaped rather than round. There is only one crop, which is heavy but short-lived, and the figs are sweeter than those of the brown turkey. The skin of these figs is burgundy rather than brown.
The San Pedro cultivar produces an early crop (called a breba crop) in May, on last year's wood, and a second crop in mid-summer on the current year's wood. The early crop is not pollinated, but in order to produce the second crop, the tree must be pollinated. The figs that must be pollinated have seeds, which gives them a pleasingly nutty flavor.
The caprifig tree does not produce edible figs. The small fruit is unimportant. What is important is the flowers. The pollen is necessary for the San Pedro and Smyrna fig trees to be fertilized. A wasp called the blastophaga wasp is the primary fertilizer, and they often infest caprifig fruit trees.
Smyrna fig trees produce figs that are large and have seeds. While edible raw, they are most often dried. If the tree is not pollinated by the pollen from the caprifig tree, the figs will not develop correctly and will drop from the tree prematurely.