Figs vs. Dates

Among all fruits, there are two that stand out conspicuously for high food value. They are the date and the fig. Weight for weight, dried figs are more nourishing than bread. A pound and a half yields four-fifths of the nourishment required daily by a grown man. Additionally, a half pound of dates with a half pint of milk makes a most satisfying meal.

The date is really a berry, and the stone inside, unlike the stone of a plum, which is merely a hard seed-case, is the seed itself. The importance of the date-palm is seen by the many references to it in ancient literature, for example:

"The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," sang the Psalmist, using this tree as an emblem of integrity and fruitfulness. "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age. They shall be fat and flourishing."

There was even a time in history when it was popular to use an expression:

"Palmy" (to refer to anything considered in a prosperous condition).

Even the Egyptian architects, who built the stately temples of Luxor and Karnak could find nothing finer to copy for their great pillars than the upright date-palm with its crown of spreading leaves.

Date palm in San Jaun
Date palm in San Jaun | Source
Dates on Date Palm Tree
Dates on Date Palm Tree | Source

A Little Palm Knowledge

When the seed of the date-palm germinates, the reserve of food stored up in it is converted into sugar by a ferment call cytase, produced by the first green leaves of the plant. Gradually, the plant forms fresh cells and increases in height, throwing out leaves.

However, as the stem grows, the lower leaves die so that the tree always shows a crown of leaves on top, with only the remains of the former leaves below.

It is these that give the stem of the palm such a rough appearance. Indeed, the stem may be said to be made up largely of the remains of leaves.

When young, the leaves are twisted together and matted up with loose fibers, which open as the leaf expands. Then, the leaves split down to the main stalk along the folds, and a fully grown leaf, although large, offers very little resistance to the wind, so that the tree is able to stand firm in the fiercest storm.

The average date-palm grown sixty or seventy feet high, but many reach eighty feet. In the ordinary way, the plant is not propagated by seed, but by suckers that spring out of the base of the tree.

The palm begins bearing fruit when seven years old, and will go on bearing for an astonishing two hundred years. A single tree gives from eight to ten bunches a season.

So valuable are the trees in North Africa, that they have passed as wealth from father to son, and even as a dowry of a daughter for generations. A man's social position was once largely reckoned according to the number of date-palms he owned.

The date stones were once ground up and formed a nourishing food for camels, while the fibrous parts of the plant were made into ropes, baskets, and mats. Much of the cordage used by ships on the Sea see were once made from the fibrous bark of the date palm.

 

Dahab Egypt Phoeni dactylifera
Dahab Egypt Phoeni dactylifera | Source

Appreciation Of Dates

To be fully appreciated, the dates should be gathered ripe and eaten immediately, but for export or, for preserving, they are laid out on mats and dried in the sun to this day in many parts of the world where they grow.

The large amount of sugar prevents them from fermenting under the process.

Dates are also made into jam with sugar, but for this, they are gathered beforea they are fully ripe.

Le Secret - L'illustration Europeenne #22, p 173, 1871
Le Secret - L'illustration Europeenne #22, p 173, 1871 | Source

Amazing Secret About Dates

The most remarkable thing about the date palm is that every tree is usually fertilized by hand. The male and female flowers grow on different trees, and though a certain amount of pollen might be blown by the wind from the male flowers, and somehow find a lodging in the female flowers -- this would be too uncertain a process where the food supply of millions of people is involved.

From time immemorial, therefore, it has been the practice for the cultivator to collect flowers from the male tree and, climbing to the top of the female tree, to arrange the male flowers above the blossom there, so that the pollen may fall into the female flowers. Without this pollination by hand, the date palm will seldom bear fruit.

This brings me to a fascinating true Middle Eastern story.

 

Les Petit Secrets
Les Petit Secrets | Source

A Civil War In Persia

The story goes, that once during a civil war in old time Persia, one side destroyed all the male palms to deprive the other side of food.

The people on that side saved the situation by collecting and storing pollen, so that when times became quieter, they were able to fertilize the female blossoms once more.

As a result of that historical event -- In the case the male flowers should fail, and there should be no pollen to fertilize the female palms, which would mean starvation over wide areas, the natives practiced a policy to preserve a supply from one year to the other.

Reproduction of Date Palms

The green objects we see hanging on fig trees are really flower-clusters, not fruits. In this picture, when cut length-wise, it shows male and female flowers clustered inside.
The green objects we see hanging on fig trees are really flower-clusters, not fruits. In this picture, when cut length-wise, it shows male and female flowers clustered inside. | Source
A cross-section through the fig fruit, Ficus racemosa (syn. F. glomerata) showing the syconium fruit of figs. The fruit is consists of an enlarged, fleshy, hollow receptacle which has been cut in this photo with multiple ovaries on the inside surface
A cross-section through the fig fruit, Ficus racemosa (syn. F. glomerata) showing the syconium fruit of figs. The fruit is consists of an enlarged, fleshy, hollow receptacle which has been cut in this photo with multiple ovaries on the inside surface | Source

The Story Of The Fig

The fig is even more interesting than the date. Its life-story has become fully known only during the last century, thanks to the studies of American scientists and fruit growers when introducing the plant into the state of California.

The fig is a native of the Persian Gulf countries, and is cultivated all along the Mediterranean shore, as well as in India, Australia, and California. The tree grows from fifteen to thirty feet high.

It is a relative of the mulberry, the banyan tree, and the India rubber tree. When a ripe fig is gathered, a sticky milky substances adheres to the fingers, and this is not unlike the milky fluid of the rubber tree that hardens into rubber.

The Romantic and Mysterious Story of the Smyrna Fig

The fig has a curious flower arrangement, as if we took a Daisy and curled all the florets together inside.  This section of a fig, turned inside out, shows the flowers clearly.
The fig has a curious flower arrangement, as if we took a Daisy and curled all the florets together inside. This section of a fig, turned inside out, shows the flowers clearly. | Source
The male and female flowers are on the same plant, and are clustered in the figs  which we see.  On the left -- the male flower is shown magnified; on the right, is the female.
The male and female flowers are on the same plant, and are clustered in the figs which we see. On the left -- the male flower is shown magnified; on the right, is the female. | Source

The story of the Smyrna fig, the variety which produces the fine, rich, sweet fruit that we know so well in its dried form, is a wonderful romance. In ancient times, it was known that figs came into maturity and ripened properly only when the wild variety, called the Caprifig, was grown in the same plantation as the cultivated figs.

However, why this should be, was a mystery and so it remained until the end of the 1800s. Even the Romans knew and wondered of this mystery. One of their naturalists, Pliny, suggested that an invisible insect had something to do with it.

Figs are grown in gardens, and there are some people who think their trees produce fruit, but no flowers. As a matter of fact, these fig trees produce flowers, but no fruits. The pear-shaped objects that form on the tree, and grow larger and larger, are not fruits at all, but flower clusters (inflorescences), and the fig blossom is a very interesting botanical specimen.

The wild fig -- the Caprifig -- has trhee crops, in spring, summer, and fall.  A little wasp enters the autumn Caprifigs and lives in them all winter, emerging in spring.
The wild fig -- the Caprifig -- has trhee crops, in spring, summer, and fall. A little wasp enters the autumn Caprifigs and lives in them all winter, emerging in spring. | Source
By the time the spring Caprifigs are ripe, the wasp enters them again.
By the time the spring Caprifigs are ripe, the wasp enters them again. | Source
The wasp lays its eggs and dies, and the new wasp hatches.
The wasp lays its eggs and dies, and the new wasp hatches. | Source
Here is an egg case, and on the right the young wasp.
Here is an egg case, and on the right the young wasp. | Source

In form, it is constructed on the same principle as the Daisy, the Dandelion, and the sunflower. These have hundreds of tiny florets arranged around a center, radiating to form a disk.

However, in the fig blossom, the small flowers are drawn together to form a pear-shaped bag, with the flowers inside.

That is the fig, as we see it grow, and as in some places these flowers are never pollinated, the fruit never forms, and the flower-head remains a flower-head, although, if eaten when freshly gathered in the fall, it is delicious.

(It should be noted that the figs which grow in the Southern states do not form seeds and are not good dried).

Now, if you look closely, In the end opposite the stalk, which holds the fig to the tree is a little hole, and this is the door into the flower-head.

In the orchards of Turkey, the cultivators plant with the Smyrna fig, the Caprifig tree, which produces pollen, but not good fruit. There man cut off the staminate blossoms of the wild fig and hang them in trees of the cultivated variety, so that the cultivated blossoms may be pollinated and produce rich fruit.

Years ago, when the Smyrna fig trees were planted in California, the figs dropped off, so the growers sent to Turkey for knowledge of the cultivation practices there.

Soon they discovered the curious fact about the need of growing Caprifigs in the same orchards, and they did so -- with very disappointing results.

One planter, however, took the pollen from a few Smyrna fig blossoms, and those figs matured and became sweet fruits. The next year he blew the Caprifig pollen into many Smyrna figs with a glass tube, and one hundred and fifty of them matured and ripened.

The scientists were now on the track of this success, and they found that the tiny insect referred to by ancient naturalist Pliny, was indeed a wasp, that visited both the Caprifig and the Smyrna fig blossoms, and as this insect evidently did the pollinating the mystery of ages was finally solved.

The young wasp now comes out of the spring Caprifig covered with pollen.
The young wasp now comes out of the spring Caprifig covered with pollen. | Source
Looking for a home, it mistakenly enters on of the Smyrna figs and fertilizes it.
Looking for a home, it mistakenly enters on of the Smyrna figs and fertilizes it. | Source

The Back Story of the Mystery

The solution of a mystery that puzzled men for centuries is this -- The Caprifig has three crops --- in spring, summer, and autumn. The autumn crop remains on the tree through the winter. The little fig-wasp spends the winter in the autumn Caprifigs, and then, having exhausted the food in them, emerges in the spring and goes into the spring Caprifigs to lay its eggs in them.

Then the wasp dies, but the eggs hatch out into new wasps, which live in the spring Caprifigs till they, too, exhaust the food supply, and come out in search of more. When they emerge, they are covered with pollen from the spring Caprifigs.

Deceived by the blossoms of the edible fig (the Symrna fig), the wasps enter them to find a nesting place. Finding their mistake, they come out again, but not before they have shaken off their pollen and fertilized the blossom.

They now fly about till the Summer Caprifigs are on the trees, and inside these they lay their eggs.

By autumn, the new wasps hatch out, leave the summer Caprifigs after exhausting the food supply, and enter the autumn Caprifigs, where they winter, and the whole story is repeated once more, year-after-year.

Finding no suitable play to lay its eggs, it comes out of the Symrna fig and gits back and enters the autumn Caprifigs, but it has already polinated the more edible Symrna figs and they develop fruit.
Finding no suitable play to lay its eggs, it comes out of the Symrna fig and gits back and enters the autumn Caprifigs, but it has already polinated the more edible Symrna figs and they develop fruit. | Source

The Wasps That Were World Travelers

After many unsuccessful attempts to duplicate what the wasps did on a grand scale to have a viable fig crop in the United States, the wasps were carried across the Atlantic ocean and to the California fig growers. Without them, California would have never had a commercial fig operation.

Fig Tree Care and Pruning

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Comments 50 comments

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks funmontrealgirl! They can be grown as a houseplant.


funmontrealgirl profile image

funmontrealgirl 5 years ago from Montreal

Fascinating. I will surely try to incorporate them into my food shopping.


dusy7969 profile image

dusy7969 5 years ago from San Diego, California

Great hub.I like the dates.It is my favourite.So thanks a lot for this good informative and useful sharing.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Mini Greenhouse! I enjoyed writing this one.


Mini Greenhouse 5 years ago

Jerilee great hub here! such a long and informative read, you've really put a lot of quality time and effort into this, thanks a bunch! A rated!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Edward Colozzi! And good for us too.


Edward Colozzi 5 years ago

An informative article and very enjoyable to read. I am writing a children's story, and you have provided just the information I needed, plus video! I was so inspired that I think I shall go to the store and buy some figs and dates since they are both so nourishing! Thanks for all your research:) EdC


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Time4Travel!


Time4Travel profile image

Time4Travel 5 years ago from Canada

Neat hub! I've always wondered where dates come from. Thanks for the info!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks antonrosa!


antonrosa profile image

antonrosa 5 years ago from USA

Great tips here..I enjoyed reading this..Thanks for sharing..


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks chspublish! Actually, I've seen a few palm trees grown under artificial light indoors. Don't think that they were actually "thriving" but merely surviving.

Thanks wendy! I once lived where dates were grown commercially and count myself lucky for that experience.


wendy 5 years ago

The article on dates and figs reminds of something delicious especially for myself that have a personal experience on such fruits. At local retail store those fruit could be found at the groceries section only by keen observation. a request from a retail profession could locate from store if any at all. However, a fruit as dates would very much be peculiar to find in the original raw nature. sometimes, the processes kind is easier to find whether as flavor to yohurt of foods with similar grading within a retail grocers.

wendy


chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

Thanks for all the information on these beautiful, delicious fruits. Figs and dates are my all time favorite, even though it's only figs that I can eat fresh. Dates are usually eaten in their dried state. I live in a very cold climate, so fresh dates are not usually imported, only figs. Fortunately, I grow a small fig tree which fruited beautifully this year. The climate is not conducive to growing a palm tree unless I grew it under glass. That would be a challenge!

Thanks again for the stimuulating information.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks RTalloni! Since the price of them is so expensive, anyone lucky enough to have a tree of their own is indeed lucky.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

Great hub here! Thanks much. I need to double check what kind of fig tree I've been growing here in my southern state as they are delish when dried...or maybe I just don't know how yummy figs in other states are when they are dried! :) Thanks much for some great info in an enjoyable hub.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks High Health!


High Health 5 years ago from Wales

Good hub. I have to say that my favorite of the two is dates, but figs do come a close second.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Indoor Greenhouse Guy! Might be time to look at that fig tree in a new light.


Indoor Greenhouse Guy 5 years ago

Interesting Hub! I've got a fig tree in my garden too but have never paid any attention to it whatsoever, i think i should do now though! thanks for the info!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Hai Pip!

Thanks Seb! That's amazing.

Thanks Tina Pathak! Try Whole Foods if you have one in your area.


Tina Pathak 6 years ago

Am deaf, would love to buy fig & date yogurt but cant find around and want to buy yogurt as very delicious when i was in devon and could you please advise me as want to buy one please,


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks ulktimate hubber! I guess age has its advantages.


Ultimate Hubber profile image

Ultimate Hubber 6 years ago

A masterpiece! Bookmarked!

BTW I am wondering how do you know all these stories?


Seb 6 years ago

What a great article, thanks. i live near vancouver B.C. and believe it or not I have two fig trees. Last year no figs because I pruned it too much I think. This year we have had lots and they are huge. Last week and early this week we had 85-90 degree weather so they are all ripening at the same time. i have to remind myself to leave them on the tree until they are really ripe. Luckily the birds haven't figured out what they are. Thanks


hai Pip 6 years ago

nice post..


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Betty B! I love the compliments.


Bettie B 6 years ago

Totally Awesome!! I'm printing this to hang in my small shop (in Elberta, AL), "Fig Blossom"....You wouldn't believe how smug some people have been about this subject..."I've seen alot of fig trees but never seen one single blossom!"....trying to explain that the bloom's inside, works sometimes, but sometimes they just smirk even more...I can't find the article I originally found on this subject, but I like yours even better, so this should settle it...& explain our motto, "Blooming from the inside...where it counts most!" Thanks!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks KeithTax! A lot of times it depends on where you live in order to get them. Have you considered ordering them online?


KeithTax profile image

KeithTax 6 years ago from Wisconsin

I love dates, but have a hard time finding them in stores in my area. The best I can get most days are the chopped and sugared kind found in a sealed bag inside a box. I prefer whole dates. I like them just as they are. Whenever dates show up I am in seventh heaven. And they are a healthy snack. Great article. I enjoyed it almost as much as a bowl of dates.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks barb2082! Nature is amazing!


barb2082 profile image

barb2082 6 years ago from Amsterdam/Chicago

This is an incredible story, I just didn't know the truth and correlation behind figs and wasps. Thanks for enlightening me!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks pddm67! I'm jealous.


pddm67 profile image

pddm67 7 years ago from Queens, New York

Cool hub! Love figs. My parents have a fig tree that's at least 40 years old by now. We've transplanted it from one house to another over the years and it still does beautifully. There are ripe figs that are ready to be picked as we speak. I'll be heading there this afternoon for my fix :-)


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks BJC!


BJC profile image

BJC 7 years ago from Florida

Great info - thanks for the hardwork you put in putting this hub together.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Aya! I can't eat too many of them and of course, they were a lot more available and cheaper on the West Coast than here in Florida where they are imported.

Thanks Kim Garcia!


Kim Garcia 7 years ago

Wow! Interesting hub!! I love figs but had no idea about their pollination, the male and female fig trees, and especially regarding the wasp's role in the life of the fig!! Fascinating! Peace ~ K


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Jerilee, lots of good information here about some of the world's oldest food crops. My mother, as a typical Israeli, loves figs and dates, and she has grown fig trees even in climates that were not the best fit. Myself, I find them a little too rich!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Ginn Navarre! Mom, I'll have to dig out that box of recipes your Cousin Sue sent me because I think she had a fig cake recipe that might be fun to try. Love you.


Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 7 years ago

Jerilee with this excellent hub, you have taught you Mom how to trim the two fig trees that I planted last year.

Your great grandmother Navarre always had a fig-cake that would delight us all. love ya.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks rb11! I don't know if figs and dates that an internal filtering system, but it's certainly something to look into.

Thanks Brian S! Figs are quite interesting considering their complexity.


BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

We have a large fig tree in our garden and I shall be looking at it with renewed interest now and will probably be taking care of it a little better.


rb11 profile image

rb11 7 years ago from Las Vegas

You have assembled one of the more complete and detailed hubs I've seen. What's encouraging is that man hasn't tried to genetically mess with these items, yet. I know some plants have an internal filtering system which rids contaminants

from the soil, do dates and figs have this quality?

Great Hub.....Regards


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Nancy's Niche! I like figs but think I like dates better but maybe that's because I grew up eating them first.


Nancy's Niche profile image

Nancy's Niche 7 years ago from USA

Jerilee, excellent information on 2 of my favorite things to eat. The fig is my number one favorite!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Nolimits Nana! That's pretty terrific.

Thanks Anthony James Barnett - author! I failed to mention that they can be grown as container trees.

Thanks RNMSN! Figs lean more toward the bush than the tree is allow to grow naturally.


RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

really fantastic reading jerilee!! I've always called them bushes...my moms(3) are the best/she said its because of the 5 of us kids playing, laughing,all day...its really a wonder it survived all of us/it was always a great hiding place especially on summer nights!now all of us are gone and mom doesn't have to beat us out of the bushes haha for her to get her figs for preserves...she gets them all to herself now!


Anthony James Barnett - author 7 years ago

I found this particularly interesting as a friend recently gave us a fig tree. I shall refer back to this as the tree grows.


Nolimits Nana 7 years ago

Interesting info - especially, for me, about the figs. I've a tree that is fruiting for the first time.

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