When Picking a Fig Variety, You Have Choices

(News article for February 26, 2022; edited)

Last week’s article addressed growing figs. This week, I want to elaborate on fig varieties.

Some varieties that we grow have been around for many years. The LSU Agricultural Experiment Station’s 1908 Orchard Report of the Baton Rouge Station mentions Celeste and Brown Turkey, which are still two of the most common varieties.

Celeste (AKA Malta) has much to recommend it. The plant is one of the most cold hardy and produces fruit that ripen over a two-week period starting around the 4th of July. The fruit, though small, are among the sweetest and have the desirable closed eye trait.

The eye or ostiole is where a wasp would get in to pollinate flowers, but the varieties we typically grow produce fruit without pollination. This eye is also a place where water and microorganisms can get in and cause figs to split or spoil, especially in our wet climate, so a closed eye is preferred.

Brown Turkey (AKA Southeastern Brown Turkey and Texas Everbearing) fruit is larger than that of Celeste. The eye isn’t as tightly closed, so souring and splitting are more likely, and it’s less cold hardy and less sweet. However, the variety produces well on young wood, so it may bear fruit even if it experiences cold damage during the winter. Brown Turkey’s main crop ripens after that of Celeste, and it may also produce a small, early “breba” crop.

Alma was released in Texas in the 1970s. It’s one of the latest-ripening figs, with its sweet fruit ripening several weeks after that of Celeste. Alma is cold-sensitive and so is better suited to southern than northern Louisiana. The fruit produces resin that seals the eye.

LSU had a fig breeding program that began in the 1950s. LSU Purple is one of the most well-known results of this program. Ripe fruits can become, as you might guess, dark purple. This variety tends to begin bearing fruit when plants are still young, whereas many fig varieties won’t bear much of consequence until the plant is around five years old. LSU Purple has some resistance to leaf diseases. It’s cold sensitive, though, and better suited to southern Louisiana than northern Louisiana.

LSU Gold produces large yellow figs and begins ripening a few days before Celeste. The plant is more cold-hardy than LSU Purple. The fruit has a partially open eye and may experience some fruit cracking after rain.

Three more recent and perhaps lesser-known LSU fig releases are O’Rourke, Tiger, and Champagne. These produce fruit that is larger than that of Celeste but with eyes that are not as tightly closed.

The fruit of O’Rourke ripens about a week before Celeste. The tree has less of a tendency than Celeste does to lose its leaves in late summer due to leaf diseases.

The Champagne fig is yellow and, though larger than Celeste, is not as large as LSU Gold. It ripens around the same time as Celeste.

Tiger ripens about a week after Celeste. Its name relates to stripes that can be seen on fruit during ripening. Mature Tiger plants are about half as large as Celeste, so this might a be a good choice where space is limited.

You may also enjoy this video.

Let me know if you have questions.

Contact Mary Helen Ferguson.

234-croppedJPG'LSU Purple' figs. (Photo by J. Stagg, LSU AgCenter; edited by M.H. Ferguson)

387-croppedJPG'LSU Gold' fig. (Photo by J. Stagg, LSU AgCenter; edited by M.H. Ferguson)

788-croppedJPG'O'Rourke' figs. (Photo by J. Stagg, LSU AgCenter; edited by M.H. Ferguson)

524-cropped2JPG'Tiger' figs. (Photo by J. Stagg, LSU AgCenter; edited by M.H. Ferguson)

830-croppedJPG'Champagne' figs. (Photo by J. Stagg, LSU AgCenter; edited by M.H. Ferguson)

4/5/2022 2:25:57 PM
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