The fig grows best and produces the best quality fruit in Mediterranean and dryer warm-temperate climates. Rains during fruit development and ripening can cause the fruits to split. With extra care figs will also grow in wetter, cooler areas. Diseases limit utility in tropical climates. Fully dormant trees are hardy to 12° - 15° F, but plants in active growth can be damaged at 30° F. Fig plants killed to the ground will often resprout from the roots. Chilling requirements for the fig are less than 300 hours. In containers figs are eye-catching specimens inside or outdoors. It is best to choose a slow-growing cultivar.
The fig is a picturesque deciduous tree that can grow up to 50 ft tall, but more typically to a height of 10 - 30 ft. Their branches are muscular and twisting, spreading wider than they are tall. Fig wood is weak and decays rapidly. The trunk often bears large nodal tumors, where branches have been shed or removed. The twigs are terete and pithy rather than woody. The sap contains copious milky latex that is irritating to human skin. Fig trees often grow as a multiple-branched shrub, especially where subjected to frequent frost damage. They may be espaliered, but only where roots may be restricted, as in containers.
Fig leaves are bright green, single, alternate and large (to 1 ft length). They are more or less deeply lobed with 1 - 5 sinuses, rough hairy on the upper surface and soft hairy on the underside. In the summer their foliage lends a beautiful tropical feeling.
The tiny flowers of the fig are out of sight, clustered inside the green "fruits", technically a synconium. Pollinating insects gain access to the flowers through an opening at the apex of the synconium. In the case of the common fig the flowers are all female and need no pollination. There are 3 other types, the Caprifig which has male and female flowers requiring visits by a tiny wasp, Blastophaga grossorum; the Smyrna fig, needing cross-pollination by Caprifigs in order to develop normally; and the San Pedro fig which is intermediate, its first crop independent like the common fig, its second crop dependent on pollination.
The common fig bears a first crop, called the breba crop, in the spring on last season's growth. The second crop is borne in the fall on the new growth and is known as the main crop. In cold climates the breba crop is often destroyed by spring frosts. The matured "fruit" has a tough peel (pure green, green suffused with brown, brown or purple), often cracking upon ripeness, and exposing the pulp beneath. The interior is a white inner rind containing a seed mass bound with jelly-like flesh. The edible seeds are numerous and generally hollow, unless pollinated. Pollinated seeds provide the characteristic nutty taste of dried figs.