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The Ficus carica, also known as the common fig, is an Asian species of flowering plant in the mulberry family. It is a source of the fruit commonly called the fig and is an important crop in areas where it is grown commercially. Native to the Middle East and western Asia, this plant has been cultivated since ancient times and is now widely grown throughout the world as both a fruit-bearing tree and an ornamental plant. The common fig tree has become naturalized in scattered locations in Asia and North America.
The Ficus carica is a deciduous tree or large shrub that can grow up to 7-10 meters in height, with smooth white bark. Its fragrant leaves are deeply lobed with three or five lobes, measuring 12-25 centimeters long and 10-18 centimeters across. The complex inflorescence consists of a hollow fleshy structure called the syconium, which is lined with numerous unisexual flowers. The fig is actually the infructescence or scion of the tree, which means it is a false fruit or multiple fruit containing many flowers and seeds.
The edible fruit of the Ficus carica consists of a mature syconium containing numerous one-seeded fruits. The fruit is usually green, ripening towards purple or brown, and measures 3-5 centimeters long. The tree's milky sap, found in its green parts, is an irritant to human skin.
This plant thrives in dry and sunny areas with deep and fresh soil, including rocky areas and free-draining soils. While some fig species require pollination by a fig wasp or another tree, the Ficus carica can be pollinated by the fig wasp Blastophaga psenes, which allows it to produce seeds. It is tolerant of seasonal drought and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. The Middle Eastern and Mediterranean climate is especially suitable for its growth.
The Ficus carica plays an important ecological role, as it is dispersed by birds and mammals that scatter its seeds in their droppings. Its fruit is a vital food source for many animals in certain areas, contributing to the expansion of this tree species. The plant also sprouts from its root and stolon tissues.
Cultivation of the Ficus carica dates back to ancient times when it was one of the first plants cultivated by humans. It was widespread in ancient Greece and Rome, with historical records describing its cultivation and its use as a food source. It was later introduced to areas including Northern Europe and the New World. In the 18th century, Spanish missionaries brought the first figs to California, leading to the cultivation of the Mission variety in the region.
Overall, the Ficus carica is a versatile and important plant, valued for both its fruit and its beauty as an ornamental plant. Its long history of cultivation and wide distribution make it a well-known and well-loved species around the world.