The Fig Tree

Every spring before the figs began to ripen the villagers performed a curious ceremony - a ceremony which was almost a religious rite in its constancy and stability. This consisted in a group of the villagers going to the woods in search of wild fig trees. They collected little leather-like wild figs which they brought home and strung together and hung in festoons on the branches of the garden fig trees.

I always used to consider this rite as superstition, but the villagers maintained that the garden variety of fig trees would not bear any fruit unless they took this precaution. They did not know the reason why they did this, and I never learned it until years later when a number of shoots of the Smyrna fig tree were taken and planted in California, and to the consternation of the planters, although the shoots grew up into trees and bore beautiful leaves, they never bore ripe fruit. It was only when they discovered that the garden fig is the female tree and the wild fig is the male that they also planted shoots of the wild fig tree among the garden figs and then the trees bore fruit. The way in which the blossoms of the garden fig were fertilized was by means of the pollen of the wild fig. The fig blossom is like almost any other flower blossom and the birds of the air carry pollen from the wild fig to the garden fig and in this way the garden fig tree is fertilized. The blossoms are very small and line the inside wall of the pear shaped fig. At the broad apex of the fig, furtherest from the stem, is a small hole; flies, insects and birds, which inhabit the interior of the male wild fig, come out through this hole with their bodies laden with pollen and fly into the orifice of the female fig of the garden variety and as they wander on the inside searching for nectar, they unwittingly fertilize the female fig blossom.

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