Figs on the front. It’s all about sex.

Many people ask me about the fig trees growing on Madeira Drive at the bottom of the green wall.

We all know about the leaves used to cover Adam and Eve’s modesty, but are figs really all about sex? Well, yes.

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There are 2 trees at the bottom of Paston Place, one growing 10m tall. They are often cut back hard, but grow back quickly…tough and hardy plants even in our salty and windy climate.

Ours are male figs…so whilst they have fruit, it’s dry and inedible. In the wild, you need males and females to reproduce (like us), but also a little help from a tiny wasp (unlike us).

According to Jonathan Drori in his great book ‘Around the world in 80 trees’, in the native Turkey, the wasps (Blastophaga) are female, stingless and tiny. Wasps of both sexes hatch inside male figs and mate, the males burrowing out to die. Male figs produce pollen…which covers the female wasp as she leaves the burrow made by the male in search of figs to lay eggs in.

It’s a one way trip with a 50-50 success rate. Getting into a new fig strips off her wings so there’s no turning back. If it’s a male fig then she lays eggs which hatch to continue the cycle of life. If it’s a female fig, tough luck – it doesn’t fit her anatomy so she can’t lay eggs. She does however spread pollen around unwittingly as she goes, and when she dies her body contributes to the plant’s growth.

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A couple more interesting facts. The smell of the ripe female figs is designed to attract bats and birds to spread the seeds. And the natural laxative effect of eating the figs ensures the seeds get a good dollop of fertiliser to help them along.

So if we can’t eat the fruit, what about the leaves? I once met someone who picked a fig leaf to munch on his way along Madeira Drive every day and swore by the health benefits. Well, turns out regular consumption may lower triglycerides which are implicated in obesity and heart disease. Just watch out for that laxative effect!