Have you noticed the change in the air? No detection of a frosty autumn chill early in the morning? Of course not, we are in extreme South Florida where the change of seasons is almost imperceptible. Nevertheless, we just passed a calendar milestone worthy of taking note. This year, the Autumnal Equinox occurred on September 23rd, marking the first day of fall and when day length and night length are equal. From here forward, nights grow longer each day until the December solstice. Day length as it relates to horticulture is a huge subject too complex to go into here, but I encourage you to investigate the reactions of your favorite plants to this important environmental trigger.
This month we will look at a branch of the Moraceae, or Mulberry family, the genus Ficus, or Figs. There are more than a thousand species of Ficus and the fruit we are most familiar with is called the common Fig, Ficus carica L. The common fig has been cultivated since at least 5000 B.C., making it one of the earliest known crops. In fact, recent discoveries hint that is may predate cultivation of even the earliest of grains like barley and rye. The fruit may be eaten fresh, but does not keep or ship well, so most commercial production is dried.
The dried fig is a thread that touches the many civilizations and cultures from whence the bulk of western civilization springs. It appears in art and literature from the ancient Greeks, to Romans, to India and beyond. This provides us proof of the day to day importance of this humble fruit, from the common man to the great and good. This fruit is one that would be just as familiar to a Roman emperor as it is to us.
Truly fascinating is that what we are eating is actually an inverted flower structure called a “Synconium”, inside which many tiny flowers bloom unseen to us. The tiny hole at the end of the fruit allows a specialized wasp to crawl in and pollinate the flowers, but don’t worry, you are not eating a wasp when you eat a fig!–probably! Almost all figs that are grown now do not require insect pollination to set fruit.
We have some other interesting figs here at the park. Ficus religiosa or bohdi is purported to be the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. It is considered sacred to several religions. Ficus sycomorus, native to Africa and Lebanon was the sacred Tree of Life to ancient Egyptians. It produces edible fruits and provides much needed shade with its massive spreading habit. These two impressive specimens can be found just to the west of our Asian greenhouse.
There are thousands of ways that plants and people interconnect. Sometimes in the modern world it is a challenge to connect with nature in the intimate way our ancestors did. We are insulated from so much now. The ancients found not only food, but mystical elements in what was provided by the world around them. Taking notice of the world around you, and marking the seasons and changes to the environment will help you feel more connected to the world, and make you a better grower in the bargain.
We have two great events coming up this month. We have GrowFest! a celebration of all things local and organic, on October 19-20. New this year is the Redland Food and Music festival, with a Caribbean flair. Learn more.