a story of a fig and a wasp

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Imagine a tiny wasp, black, the appearance of an ant and about the same size. Free-living, meaning without a colony, and alive for a mere few days. They're born inside of a fig, mate, and pregnant make their way out of the fruit in search for a new immature fig. Their antennae perfectly honed through evolution to pick up the chemicals an unclaimed fig will send out. Once found, they'll make their way from the ostiole, the bottom part of a fig and narrow entrance to the centre, into the fig. The passageway is barbed, the body of the fig wasp long and narrow, suited to the task , still struggles and often loses her wings and part of her antennae on her way in.

The female wasp must enter the flower through a tiny tunnel, rifled like a gun-barrel, during which process she loses her wings and dooms herself.
— Max Adams, The Wisdom of Trees

The pollen she picked up in the fig she was born in is deposited on several of the flowers inside of the fig as the wasp starts to lay her eggs. Spent, she dies. Where the eggs are laid the fig is tricked in to making a custom home or a gall. First the male fig wasp hatches, wingless, their only job is to mate with the females and burrow themselves out of the fig, once outside, they die quite quickly. Once the female fig wasps are out they search for a new fig to deposit their eggs and eventually die. Their entire short lives are tied up in the reproductive cycle of the fig tree. And to each fig species its own species of wasp. For the common fig tree (Ficus carica) there is Blastophaga psenes. For the Indian banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) there is Eupristina mason. And for the Boddhi tree (Ficus religiosa) there is Blastophaga Quadraticeps.

This is an example of mutualism, a process in which each organism involved benefits each other, in this case the fig wasp (Blastophaga Psenes) and the common fig tree (Ficus carica) aid each other within their reproduction. On top of this, many fig trees support a range of fig wasps that aren't a part of the reproductive cycle if the fig tree, they are known as parasitic fig wasps. Which seems fitting when you think that several species within the Ficus genus are parasites or stranglers themselves. Their seeds develop on other trees and as it grows it smothers the tree, taking over until the strangler tree has fully established itself.

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not a fruit, but a multitude of one

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What most would call the fruit of the fig tree is actually a cluster of flowers enclosed in a fleshy covering. A cluster or group of flowers is called an inflorescence. The inward turned inflorescence growth of the fig is called a syconium. Based on the ancient greek name for fig, Syke. There is a myth that nymphs born to a tree, also known as hamadryads, would wither as the tree came close to death and eventually die along it. The nymphs associated with the black fig tree were called Sykei.  

As a fig starts to form, the bracts of the fig start to curve until they eventually meet where they almost close, and form the ostiole, the way in for the fig wasp. Before a syconium starts to swell up (after pollination) there is a hollow inside of it. Which gives enough room to the fig wasp and for each of the flowers inside of it to grow and swell. The syconia can contain both male and female flowers, meaning within a single fig both pollen and seeds are formed. Then there are fig trees, where either the entire figs are either male or female. When a fig wasp starts to make its way outside it picks up pollen from the male flowers, which it deposits on the female flowers when the female fig wasp finds a new fig to crawl in to. Male syconia don't develop into mature figs, only the pollinated female figs do. Once the flowers have been pollinated, they develop in to fruits. When you look at this way, a fig holds within itself tens to thousands of fruits within it.

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Taste

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If honey was a fruit, it would be a fig. Or, at least that's what a fully ripe fig taste like to me, like juicy well-seeded honey. Tear or cut one open and you'll find a universe of flesh enveloped seeds. Oven roast them, eat them fresh, mix them in with chocolate and cacao-infused dishes, bury them under a layer of crumble, mix them with goat cheese and honey, or, off set a salted ham. The sweet flesh will cut through fatty flavours and pungent cheeses and will combine just as beautifully with younger, softer tasting ones. It pairs well with most nuts, especially hazel and almond, and for those wanting to make the effort it tastes incredibly good as slivers and chunks stirred through a setting paté or a long side it as a compote. But, the best thing about figs, in my opinion, is the ability to tear in to them. Almost uncivilised, you can shred them into parts from the bottom up.

Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.
— excerpt of Fig, by D.H. Lawrence
 
 

THE MULBERRY FAMILY

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Moraceae

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All fig trees belong to the mulberry family or the Moraceae family, a family containing around forty genera and about a thousand species. Of which the ficus genus takes up the lion share with eight-hundred-and-fifty species. Most of the flowers of the mulberry family are inflorescences, but the fig is the only one in which the inflorescence is enclosed.

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A symbol of enlightenment

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Ficus Religiosa

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Holy be this tree and you as holy as it.

The tree under which Siddhartha Gautama reached buddhahood is the Bo or Bodhi tree. In botanical terms the tree is known as Ficus religiosa or the sacred fig tree. Bodhi trees are always sacred fig trees, but not all sacred fig trees are Bodhi trees. The tree is an important symbol within Buddhism. Able to grow up to 30m/97ft and bearing heart-shaped leaves with a long tip. A temple was erected near the original tree and as an important symbol of Buddhism, the tree has always been well taken care off. Though, twice it had to be replaced because the previous one was destroyed. In the 2nd century BC it was destroyed by King Puspyamitra and near the beginning of the 7th century AD it was once more destroyed by King Sassanka. The original is said to have been replaced by offspring of the original. In 1881, the tree was once more replaced because the previous one had died of old age, the new tree was planted by a British archaeologist, and still grows there to this day.

Several Buddhist monasteries have Bodhi trees growing in them, and all of them are believed to trace their line back to the original under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.


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I dedicate a great deal of my time researching, studying, and writing, but at the end of the day, it's still a learning process. Therefore, If you think I got any of the information wrong, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email with the correct information.



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