“The mighty nature is full of miracles!” Exclaims Elder Berendey from the spring fairy tale “The Snow Maiden” A. One of these miracles is active coexistence or, more precisely, a mutual community of plants and animals.
Many, apparently, like amber cakes of dried figs. Fresh fruits are also very good and nutritious, filling the markets of our south in late summer and autumn. Otherwise, they seem excessively sweet, but this, as they say, is a matter of taste.
© H. Zell
Figs - a small or medium-sized tree with a spreading crown and light gray smooth bark. It is found in our wild or wild state in the Caucasus, Crimea and Central Asia. He has large, densely pubescent leaves on the back, which on one tree are both whole and cut into lobes.
Fig inflorescences are unique. With their unusual appearance, they even let down the patriarch of modern botanical taxonomy Carl Linnaeus, who did not immediately manage to unravel their secret. Inflorescences, like fig fruits, or figs, as they are also called, are pear-shaped, with a hole on a flat top. Once, in the Sukhumi Botanical Garden, the botanist Managadze led me to two apparently identical trees and asked me to guess which one was male and which was female. No matter how I tried to find the difference between the figs of purple shades, I still did not succeed. Then my companion tore off each plant by its fruit. Having taken one of them with interest, I felt its meatiness, and having bitten it, I was convinced that the fruit is like a bag with sweet, juicy, as if prepared jam, pulp. The second fig, outwardly the same, at the first touch was flabby, hollow. Dents from fingers remained on her pliable skin. As soon as the skin of the fetus was torn a little, as if from a disturbed hive with bees, tiny insects densely packed into it rushed into freedom. Only after such a visual lesson did Managadze tell me the riddle of figs.
The male tree, it turned out, was a fig with flabby figs, and a female one with juicy, edible fruits. It also turned out that this cunning riddle was solved in antiquity, but its main essence was discovered later.
In some trees, pollination is carried out by the wind, in others by a huge army of insects, and fertilization in figs can be done only with the help of tiny black os - blastophagus, which transfer pollen from male trees to female. Moreover, this wasp, in turn, can not breed without the assistance of figs.
The mechanism of such coexistence is very complex. Figs form three types of inflorescences. In one of them, which develops at the end of September, the testicles and larvae of the blastophage overwinter. Here, in the spring, their new generation is born, nourished and mated. Subsequently, the females, whose bodies are abundantly sprinkled with pollen, start looking for a place to lay eggs and try to populate a second type of inflorescence, from which figs develop. These inflorescences, however, are arranged so that wasps cannot lay testicles in them. While the wasp is swarming in the inflorescence, trying to get settled in it, it manages to pollinate the female flowers, but lays eggs only in the third type of inflorescence, specially designed for this purpose by nature. A new generation of females, emerging from these inflorescences in early autumn, in turn lays testicles, which winter in a flower house until spring.
So in the pear-shaped inflorescences of figs, his faithful allies, the blastophages, always find "both a table and a house." They live, feed, breed, shelter their offspring from the weather, and in gratitude for such care conscientiously pollinate its flowers. The process of pollination of flowers by blastophages of botany was called caprice.
© Karen Apricot New Orleans
In the Caucasus and Crimea, you can hear several versions of the legend about how one merchant decided to get rich on figs. Here is one of them. Seeing that the fruits of figs are in great demand, he acquired a large fig garden. In the midst of picking fruit, a cunning, envious neighbor came to him. “Why do you keep these useless trees in the garden? He asked the merchant, pointing to the male infertile specimens of figs. "I cut down my own for a long time, and planted good ones." The guest left, and the merchant grabbed an ax and cut down the "useless" trees.
Winter has passed, spring, the time has come to harvest, but there is nothing to collect. The fruits that have appeared since spring, hanging slightly empty, have fallen. The same story repeated itself in subsequent years, until a ruined stupid merchant cut down the whole garden in a fit of anger.
However, figs fell into disarray and people are scientists. Following Linnaeus, the botanist Casparrini became famous for his new discovery, dividing one type of fig into two species: he attributed male specimens to one of them, and to the second - female specimens. To the credit of the unlucky nerd, he soon admitted his mistake.
© Ryan Somma
At one time there were also such unfortunate botanists who persistently defamed artificial whim - a wise popular discovery, declaring it an illiterate undertaking. And kaprification consisted in hanging kaprigig on female trees strung on threads (figs from male trees). This, as it were, filled up the lack of male fig trees and ensured better pollination of female flowers. Kaprifigi were the first to collect the ancient Greeks. They perfectly knew how to keep them at low temperatures, transported in large batches on boats between the Aegean islands, even traded them. The Greeks, for the first time, began to hang caprices on female fig trees.
There were some misunderstandings when moving figs to America. Ezen, a naturalist who brought figs from Turkey to California, was booed by American farmers when he began to convince them at a special rally of the need to bring along with the figs his indispensable companion, the wasp of the blastophage.
Be that as it may, but the "tree with oddities" as a fruit plant is known and respected from ancient times. It is believed that the cultural form of figs comes from "happy Arabia" - Yemen, from where the ancient Phoenicians, Syrians, and then the Egyptians borrowed it. The ancient fig culture in Egypt is evidenced by the bas-reliefs discovered by scientists depicting the collection of figs. These creations of the ancient Egyptian masters were completed more than 2500 BC.
From Egypt, the cultivation of figs spread to the Aegean Islands, and from there (around the 9th century BC) to Hellas. It is interesting that the great philosopher Aristotle already knew about the existence of wasps accompanying figs (called psen), but he did not fully know their role. He seemed to be guessing about their help to the fig, believing that the blastophages, penetrating its immature fruits, contribute to their preservation in the tree.
In the southern regions of our country, figs have been cultivated since ancient times. In many regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia, its fruits serve not only as a delicacy, but also as important nutritious food. They contain up to 20 percent sugar, vitamin C, carotene, iron, calcium and other beneficial substances.
In the northern regions, fig fruits come only dried, since fresh figs easily deteriorate at the slightest damage and therefore are difficult to transport. Many fresh dishes are prepared from fresh fig fruits: compote, marmalade, pasta, jam.
Typically, figs are not famous for longevity, its trees rarely live more than 100 years, but in India a unique fig tree is known, whose age is more than 3000 years.
In the Crimea, the Caucasus and Central Asia, figs run wild easily, settling on mountain screes, in crevices of stone blocks and on granite rocks devoid of any vegetation. The roots of this tree easily penetrate the hardest soil, no worse than a steel auger penetrate into the smallest crevices, strengthen in the most inaccessible places. In Adler, for example, two fig trees settled on the brick cornice of the local district executive committee, and the third even climbed the dome of the old church.
The fig culture is conquering ever new geographical areas, progressing farther north. When culturing it in cold zones, unfortunately, the blastophage does not always follow it. It is very sensitive to heat and does not even tolerate the cold of the North Caucasus. In such cases, they resort to the services of figs, which can do without their eternal companion. However, this type of fig (by the way, it is also suitable for indoor culture) loses the ability to give seeds, it can only be propagated vegetatively - with green cuttings or layering.
It is curious that the wonderful fig tree is one of the closest relatives of our indoor ficus and a distant relative of the mulberry tree - mulberry. Based on their kinship, scientists spent a lot of work trying to cross figs with more frost-resistant mulberry. In California, Luther Burbank was unsuccessfully struggling to implement this tempting idea. As it often happens, Ya. I. Bomyk, a modest naturalist-expert from the Crimea, managed to accomplish this. In the harsh winter of 1949-1950 for the Crimea, when frosts in Yalta reached 20 degrees and ordinary figs almost completely froze, the Bomyka persistent hybrid survived. A successful, hardworking naturalist has high hopes for his new inzhi-mulberry hybrid black Bomyka-4. It takes a long and hard work to make the wonderful fig tree take a new step towards the north.
Author: S. Ivchenko