By Ken Love


Family: Moraceae

Scientific name: Ficus carica L.

Origin: Western Asia and Mediterranean






Steeped in the history and ritual of ancient cultures, the fig has endured the test of time to become one of the most universally enjoyed fruits. Fig remnants were found in archeological excavations dating back to 5000 BC. Cultivation of the fruit was reported first in ancient Rome where 29 varieties of figs were being grown. Believed to be indigenous to Asia Minor, the fig spread beyond the Mediterranean region before recorded history. It reached as far north as England in the early 1500s where it was already reported as being cultivated in China. Hiram Bingham first reported the fig in Hawaii in 1825.


Members of the Moraceae family, figs are cousins to the Artocarpus, breadfruit and jackfruit.



There are about 1000 varieties of figs, which are usually described by their size and color of the fruit and the shape of the leaves. The National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Davis Ca. has 190 types of figs in their collection. The most common types found in Hawaii are Brown Turkey fig and White Kadota fig. There are some Black Mission figs found at lower elevations.   



Some types of figs are cultivated from sea level to over 5000 feet and can be grown in most of the Hawaiian microclimates. The trees are tolerant to most soils with good drainage. They are tolerant of some salinity but do not like highly acidic soils.  Figs are drought tolerant.



The fig tree, with numerous spreading branches, contains a significant amount of latex, which is an irritant and may cause skin rash. In Hawaii the tree is fast growing and can achieve heights of 30 feet or more. On older trees the fruit is seldom harvested due to the height of the branches. These trees can be cut back to within a few feet above the soil.    In many growing regions, figs are pruned severely after harvest.  In Hawaii, branches can be cut back leaving the first node and new growth will appear within a month after pruning. Pruning should take place after each harvest. Figs can be pruned as an espalier or kept very low to the ground. In Hawaii’s lower elevations, with irrigation, fruit forms continuously throughout the year and pruning should be frequent with trees shaped to facilitate harvesting. Although not necessary, irrigation at lower elevations will increase production. A 1/2-gallon per hour emitter for 10 minutes a day in the early morning insures constant production at 430-foot elevation   At mid elevations, 600 to 900 feet, trees will produce 2 or more crops per year.  At elevations above 900 feet trees usually produce 1 or 2 crops per year.


Pests and Diseases

In Hawaii the most common problem is bird damage. Mylar tape, Christmas tinsel and reflective materials such as aluminum pie plates or CD ROMs are all effective in reducing damage. Protective fruit wrapping as the fig develops is also effective but increased heat inside the wrappings can cause the fruit to ripen prematurely.  Wrapping growing figs in newspaper was common practice in Hawaii during the early 1900s.  Figs are a fruit fly host with white kadota being preferred to brown turkey by the flies. Following the Hawaii Areawide Fruit Fly Pest Management Program (HAW-FLYPM) is advisable. Other pathogens to affect figs in Hawaii include Alternaria tenuis, which appear as brown to black spots on the fruit.  Aspergillus sp. or black mold and Fusarium sp. or soft rot can also occur, especially after harvest.




Although grafting and air layers work well for some growers, cuttings from 2 to 3 year old wood is the most common way to propagate figs. The cuttings should be about 1/2 inch in diameter and about a foot long. Older trees can be top worked with grafts in order to change variety.


Harvesting and Yield

In Hawaii fig production depends on elevation and cultivar. At 430-foot elevation, a Brown Turkey fig tree that covers a 20 x 25 foot area can produce more than 2000 figs per year. Trees at 1200 feet will produce about 800 figs per year, usually in autumn.  Figs are fragile and should be placed in containers at the time of harvest so that they do not touch each other. Latex from the stem end should not be allowed to touch the fruit skin, as it will cause discoloration. White Kadota produced about 1/2 of what Brown Turkey produced at the 12 Trees Project site. 


Postharvest Quality

Fully ripe figs are very perishable and should be chilled as soon as possible after harvest at 30ľF to 32ľF degrees and 90-95%% relative humidity for optimum storage of about 30 days.  Frozen figs for processing can be stored for up to a year or more.


Cost of Production


The project fig tree produced an annual marketable yield of 788 pounds. The average market price was $3.30 per pound, and therefore the tree generated a gross revenue of $2,598.75 for the year. Growing costs (fertilization, irrigation, pruning and all weed and pest control) amounted to $58.81, and harvesting costs (picking, packing and delivery to market) totaled $535.20. (All labor to grow and harvest the figs was assumed to be paid at an hourly wage rate of $16.00, including withholding, FICA and benefits.) Thus, the total annual operating costs, sometimes referred to as “variable costs,” were $594.01. The gross margin (gross revenue minus all operating costs) was $2,004.74.


The fig gross margin is the amount of money available to pay all the ownership costs associated with the fig enterprise. Ownership costs, sometimes referred to as “fixed costs,” include the value of land used (rent or rent equivalent or mortgage and property taxes), the value of the capital investment (such as the tree establishment cost and buildings and vehicles), the value of the management, and the value of any unpaid labor. (All paid labor is already included in the gross margin.) Ownership costs, unlike operating costs, will vary substantially from farm to farm and will depend largely on how the farming operation is financed and on economies of scale. Each grower will have to calculate his total farm ownership costs and then allocate an appropriate portion of these costs to each enterprise on the farm. Now the profitability of the fig enterprise can be determined by subtracting the fig enterprise’s share of the total ownership costs from the gross margin for figs.



The cost and return data are what was obtained from the 12 Trees Project site and other locations.  Yields and costs were based on optimal growing conditions for one or more trees at various locations; different results will be obtained under different growing conditions.  The prices used were actually obtained in 2005 and 2006. There is no guarantee that these prices will continue, especially if production increases significantly.  These costs and returns are simply a starting point for growers to make their own estimates.


Packaging, Pricing and Marketing   

Figs in groceries are usually sold in clamshell plastic boxes to prevent unnecessary handling and damage. Wholesale figs are delivered in single layer boxes, often separated by type and degree of ripeness. In Hawaii figs are usually sold by the piece for about 75 cents each wholesale. Grocery store and farmer’s market prices can range from 75 cents to $1.50 each. Chefs will ask wholesalers or growers for fully ripe fruit or about 80% ripe fruit, which are used for poaching or in, cooked recipes. Figs lend themselves to a wide variety of value added products.





Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion


Fresh                           Dried

Calories                       51-80                           274

Moisture                      77.5-86.8g                   23.0g

Protein                         0.69-1.3g                     4.3g

Fat                               0.14-0.30g                   1.3g

Carbohydrates             12.96-20.3g                 69.1g

Fiber                            .89-2.2 g                      5.6 g

Ash                              0.41- 0.85 g                 2.3 g

Calcium                       28-78.2 mg                  126 mg

Phosphorus                 21-32.9 mg                  77 mg

Iron                             0.6-4.09 mg                 3.0 mg

Sodium                        2.0-3 mg                      34 mg

Potassium                    188-194 mg                 640 mg

Magnesium                 16mg

Carotene                      0.013-0.195 mg          

As Vitamin A               20-270 I.U.                 80 I.U.

Thiamine                     0.034-0.06 mg             0.10 mg

Riboflavin                    0.039-0.079 mg           0.10 mg

Niacin                          0.32-0.412 mg             0.7 mg

Ascorbic Acid              2-17.6 mg                    0 mg

Citric Acid                   0.10-0.44 mg

Vitamin B6                  0.11-0.18mg


Health benefits- Figs are high in fiber that is good for lowering blood pressure and controlling cholesterol. Being high in fiber they also give a feeling of fullness and are good for diets. Figs are a good source of potassium and vitamin B6.





Fig and Feta Gau Gee and Wontons

By Ken Love




6 ripe brown turkey figs

4 oz crumbled feta cheese

1 tbl finely chopped garlic

Fresh ground pepper

1 package of wonton wrappers



Wash and cut off stem end of figs. Put figs, cheese and

garlic into food processor or blender and pulse slowly.

Texture should be slightly lumpy and not liquid. Season

with a pinch of fresh ground pepper.


Spread about 1 teaspoon of the mixture onto a wonton

and fold to desired shape. Dampen edges of the wonton so

it sticks together. Deep fry wontons until golden brown. 

Makes about 50 pieces. You can also add finely chopped fresh

spinach and cooked rice or orzo pasta to the mixture if desired.

You can also steam the wontons or form them into shumai.


Serve with sweet and sour dipping sauce or spicy chili sauce.


The 12 Trees Project

Is funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) USDA-CSREES competitive grants program.  Fifty four Hawaii Island chefs, fruit buyers and growers were invited to select the types of fruit they would like to see commercially available, based on their desire to utilize the fruit in culinary applications. In selecting the final 12 fruits, considerations were given to seasonality and harvest times so that the availability of harvested fruit and on-farm labor needs were spread out over the year.

Fruit trees were planted and brought into production at a demonstration orchard at the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative on Napoopoo Road in the South Kona District. During the course of the three-year project, fruit from this orchard, as well as additional fruit purchased from area farmers, were donated to the West Hawaii Community College culinary school. Culinary student chefs developed recipes to be published on the project web site <> and in a book in the final year of the project. Members of the cooperative as well as members of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers - West Hawaii association and any other interested growers were encouraged to plant these trees. The goals of this project were to increase profitable agricultural diversification and to develop a consistently high quality, year-around supply of tropical fruit for local markets.


References and Further Reading

Morton, Julia F., 1987. Fruits of Warm Climates


Kennard William C. and Winters Harold F., 1960. Some fruits and Nuts for the Tropics. pp. 61-63


Yeager Selene, 1998. The Doctors Book of Food Remedies. Prevention Health Books


Stover, E., M. Aradhya, L. Ferguson, and C.H. Crisosto.  2007.  The fig:

overview of an ancient fruit.  HortScience (in press).


Internet Resources


Hawaii Areawide Fruit Fly Pest Management Program (HAW-FLYPM)


Western SARE

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education




The author is grateful to Drs. R. Bowen, B. Brunner, K Fleming, R. Paull and F. Zee for their valuable contributions to this manuscript.