Inside a fig

The edible fig (Ficus carica) was among the first domesticated plants. Their remains, older than 11,000 years, from Jordan tell us that they were used before any of the grains that gave us farming. Between then and 2500 years ago, when Aristotle and Theophrastus opened up figs and described them, many others must have looked carefully at the inside of a fig. So my photos must be the most recent in a long human history of marveling at a thing that we mistakenly call a fruit.

It is an inflorescence, a bunch of flowers turned inside out. When you cut it open you see a pale colored wall, the syconium, on the outside. From this a bunch of female flowers grow inwards. In the photos you can see their long stems attached to the syconium wall. The ovaries of the flower have an organ called the style, some are long, the others short. The long-styled ones (yellow in the photos, shown selectively coloured in the photo on the right, above) can be pollinated to produce fruit. The opening that you always see in the outer wall of the syconium allows entry to fig wasps (Blastophaga psenes) which do the pollination.

About 60 million years ago, just before the time that India had begun to break away from the super-continent of Gondwanaland, these wasps had begun to evolve an unique lifestyle. They began to breed inside the short-styled flowers. So now each inflorescence is home to these wasps. Pollinating wasps come and go, leaving the mother and males to breed inside. A new generation is raised by the time the fruits are ripe, and the parents die inside and are digested by the plant’s enzymes. You won’t see any wasp parts in my photos.

A nice thing about food photography is that you can eat what you photographed. The fig was ripe, juicy, and sweet. The slightly crunchy parts were the achenes, the true fruits.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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