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fignut

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I’ve been trying since 2011 to get viable fig seed by hand pollinating main crop figs with pollen from persistent caprifigs.  There isn’t much information on the procedure and it’s been trial and error.  I finally got seed to germinate in 2013. 

Common figs do not need pollination to ripen fruit.  Smyrna figs do need pollination to ripen fruit, and so need to be grown in a mild area that supports the pollinating wasp.

 To breed Common fig trees, it is necessary to use persistent caprifigs.  In 2007 I ordered three persistent caprifigs DFIC 6, DFIC 8 (Enderud), and DFIC 126 (Caprifig Q) from UC Davis.  In 2011, one of the caprifigs, Enderud (DFIC 8), produced a breba crop, and I made some crosses with the excellent, very hardy, short season fig Florea.  I documented the procedure with the intent of posting when I had seedlings.  But none of the seeds from the pollinated figs germinated.  I contacted Dr. Louise Ferguson at the University of California Pomology Department to get some guidance, and she referred me to the gentleman, Jim Doyle, who actually did the fig pollination procedures.  Mr. Doyle worked for the university for 36 years in several tree fruit variety development programs – as he put it “right where the rubber meets the road”, and after retiring from UC in 2001, he continues to work with a nursery breeding figs.  He kindly reviewed my procedure and sent this reply:

 “Sorry to hear of your fig development problem. From the information you sent, it would appear to me to be a germination problem rather than a pollination problem. The method of pollination that you described would seem to me to be effective in setting hybrid seed. The fact that you got seed to sink in the water after fruit fermentation would seem to indicate that seeds with embryos were present. If you have any of this seed left, you could double check by crushing a seed or two and seeing (probably under a magnifying glass) if there is white or cream-colored embryo tissue present rather than the seeds being hollow. With regard to pollen collection, pollen is usually ready when the ripe caprifig colors up and takes on a wilted feel when you squeeze it. Then, when you cut open the caprifig the anthers have dehisced and the pollen can easily be knocked out of the fruit onto a collection surface. Collected pollen can be kept for at least three weeks in a refrigerator without much loss of viability. I usually keep it in a small glass flask stoppered with cotton. In my experience, seed set can range from about a hundred seed or so up to about 900 hybrid seed per fruit.

 “With regard to germination, I have always germinated fig seed at high humidity at a temperature of about 75 to 85 degrees. I have an East-facing sunroom with regular daytime fluctation up to those temperatures. I use small domed (covered) flats that act something like a terrarium to get the high humidity. Depending on the time of year that I plant the seed, I might also use a heating pad under the flats. Using this system, the seed is usually up in ten days. I use a thin layer of potting mix in the bottom of the flat overlain with medium grade vermiculite, all in a moist but not too wet condition. I scatter the seed on top of the moist vermiculite and then cover it with another thin layer of dry vermiculite and then mist the top to get everything moist. The flat is then covered and only rarely needs to have water added until germination occurs. Once the seedlings are up (usually in a two or four-leaf stage) I pick them out individually and transplant into small containers that will allow them to grow to 6 to 8 inches. From there they can be put into a nursery row, a larger container, into a field seedling row or other - as you prefer.


“I hope this information is helpful and wish you the best of luck in your project”

 

In 2012, Enderud fruited heavily and I tried again.  The other two persistent caprifigs, while also very vigorous, produced no fruit.  This time I also pollinated some main crop San Pedro figs (Fico Gentile, Fiorone di Ruvo, Grantham’s Royal) that require fertilization to ripen their main crop.  I figured that main crop San Pedro figs ripening would verify that my pollination technique was working if I failed to get seedlings again from the Florea crosses.  While the Florea seed sank in water after fermenting and had white embryo material inside, again none germinated.  The San Pedro seeds didn’t germinate either.

 In 2013 I finally got germination of seeds from a pollinated Fiorone di Ruvo. 

DSC05933  RE SizePollination - Enderud x Fiorone di Ruvo seedlings copy.JPG 

 

I’m not positive, but I think that the failure to germinate resulted from pollinating figs that were too large.  I generally pollinated the larger figs on the tree.  Seed embryos were being formed, but I don’t think they had time to mature.  Ripening in a fruit like an apple is linked to the seeds’ maturity.  Common figs on the other hand ripen without seeds.  (What we call “seeds” in Common figs are actually just empty seed cases called cenocarps.)  My best guess is that the figs ripened before the seeds did.  I think this might explain the failure of Florea to form germinating seed.  Florea ripens so quickly that perhaps the seeds don’t have time to mature.   I’d be glad to hear any other possible explanations.

 Below is the pollination procedure:

 Nature basically takes care of the timing – the caprifig brebas produce pollen when the main crop figs are ready to be pollinated.  Choose figs that are about 1/3 the size of a ripe fig of that variety.

 These are the tools that were used.  A plate to catch pollen, coffee stirrer “straws”, sharp knife, awl (punch or other sharp, sturdy implement), and a disinfectant, hydrogen peroxide.  I had used 70% alcohol, but it didn’t help to remove sap and I suspected that it caused additional damage inside the fig.  I also found having paper towels and steel wool to clean sap off the awl necessary if pollinating more than one fig.

100_4116 RE Size pollinating supplies with 2 Caprifig DCIF 08.JPG 

 

The amount of pollen in the persistent edible caprifigs varies.  Some have quite a bit in the eye area, others almost none.

DSC00210 RE Size Enderud breba cut open showing pollen 8-2-12.JPG 

 

Split the figs, tap or knock the pollen onto a plate and “line it up” to make it easy to draw it into the straw, which in this case is a hollow coffee stirrer.

DSC00212 RE Size Enderud breba cut open showing pollen 8-2-12.JPG 

 

The main crop figs to be pollinated are very hard, and I found a needle was difficult to push through.  An awl, sharp punch, or other sharp sturdy implement is much easier to grip and provides a larger hole for pollen to enter.  Make sure whatever you use goes completely through the fig – you need two holes to be able to blow into the fig. Only pierce and pollinate one fig at a time.  Once the implement is removed, the latex sap quickly seals the holes and trying to blow into the fig becomes impossible.

100_4191 RE Size pollination - pin through Florea 8-4-11.JPG 

 

 Bend the coffee stirrer about 90 degrees to allow the pollen to be drawn into the straw, but prevent it from being sucked into the mouth.  Gently draw pollen into the straw, move it to the hole in the fig and blow it in.  Loosely tie a bright colored string around the neck of the fig and tie a tag above that with information about the cross.  It is difficult to keep track of a pollinated fig in a tree full of figs, so this step is important if you don’t want to accidentally pick and eat a fig that you have pollinated. 

DSC05113 Pollinated Fico Gentile 8-4-14.JPG 

 

Pick the figs when dead ripe.  I’m going to leave the Floreas on until they drop this year.  Ferment the pulp in water as you would tomato seeds.  It isn’t necessary, but pectic enzyme solution can be purchased at a wine making supply store to hasten the process.  Once the seeds are cleaned, sow. 

 


rcantor

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Reply with quote  #2 
Wow, terrific!  Congratulations on your seedlings!  A tip for you:

Pollen is easily damaged.  Practice your technique with some white powder you can get on the street corner downtown.

In all seriousness that's a great accomplishment.  I'm pretty disappointed that it took 4 years to get your first breba and 5 to get a good crop and that's on 1 caprifig out of 3.  Have the others produced figs yet?  I was hoping they'd start in 3 and be great by 4 - 5.

I've heard that persistent caprifig pollen isn't of as high a quality as the rest of the caprifigs so your goals may be interfering with your success.  :)   But they're great goals so more power to you!

Are you interested in getting a Gillette?

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rcantor

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Reply with quote  #3 
BTW, I'd still eat the figs and spit out the seeds   :)

Have you tried sowing without fermentation? 

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Reply with quote  #4 
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Sas

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Reply with quote  #5 
Currently growing a couple of Capri figs provided by a generous member. They seem to be very robust rooters. Thank You for posting.
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pino

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Reply with quote  #6 
Excellent!  Thanks for sharing this fignut!

Curious if persistent capri figs can be identified visually or is it all in their genes? 

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Wish List: Brogiotto Bianco, Fico Datto, Fiorone di Ruvo, Fracazzano Multicolore, Fiorone Oro, Popone, Rigato del Salento and other multi colour striped figs

Pino's Figs / Pino's Photos; 2017 Brebas / 2017 Main crop

helike13

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Reply with quote  #7 
I have one persistent caprifig from the famous Roscoff Monster tree. That is Gillette/Croisic type...

But I am interested to get Saleeb, Enderud and Capri Q also... if somebody knows an European source for them I will appreciate...

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figpig_66

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Reply with quote  #8 
Thank you. Another easy way to pollenate is to cut the fig open like it has split on the tree and put pollen directly on.
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Reply with quote  #9 
Thank you for taking the time to post this.
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Reply with quote  #10 
I found your post most interesting. The idea of using a San Pedro to confirm successful pollination is clever. Hope you have success with your efforts this year.



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Ingevald

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Reply with quote  #11 
Thank you very much for posting this information and the good photos.  I've read about the various non-wasp methods and it is very pleasing to see a successful endeavor of this sort.   I'm interested in trying this someday.
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Reply with quote  #12 
Interesting that you pollinate when the common fig is hard.  Would not the fig be softer with an open ostiole in a "natural" setting?  Does the hard fig "store" the pollen until needed?
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Reply with quote  #13 
this was so interesting   i never knew that there was powder in a male fig.     Learn something outstanding every day.    thanks for this post
fignut

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Reply with quote  #14 
Thanks to all who took time to comment.

rcantor : The other caprifigs have begun to bear.  Caprifig Q  was the last to produce figs.  It is extremely vigorous - more interested in growing than producing.  I'm satisfied with Enderud and DFIC 6, but thanks.
I haven't tried sowing without fermentation, but I managed to finally get seedlings from a San Pedro fig.  I don't know if it would help to leave the pulp on the Florea seeds.  Have you had better results with sowing seeds this way? 

pino:  As I understand it, if the caprifig figs do not drop when there is no pollination (no fig wasp), the caprifig is considered "persistent".  So if a caprifig holds its figs in Niagra you have a persistent caprifig.

Richie:  Thank you, I love that idea.  Slicing the fig open would be much easier.  There is a technique that calls for cutting a plug from the pollen end of a caprifig, removing a similar sized plug from the fig to be pollinated, and then inserting the pollen bearing plug.  It sounds easy - and is nothing of the sort.  I'm definitely going to try your improved, easy pollination technique this summer. 

bamafig:  A kind member sent me this article https://books.google.com/books?id=NaBKAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA9&lpg=RA1-PA9&dq=when+to+caprify+figs&source=bl&ots=pic6Azxh40&sig=n-RZ_-bXHJQrswDeviYeul3hY8k&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CEkQ6AEwBmoVChMIpPLF2_vGxwIV0K-ACh0hagCN#v=onepage&q=when%20to%20caprify%20figs&f=false .  It recommends natural pollination (fig wasp) when the figs are between 3/8 and 1 inch in size - very small.    However, I've tried pollinating very small figs with disastrous results - they die and drop.   DSC05259 too small Florea pollinated figs failing 8-10-14.JPG 

These figs are ready to drop, apparently hand-pollinated figs can't be pollinated at that small a size with the procedure that I'm using.  If you look at the last two pictures in my previous post, the last picture is about the smallest that figs can be pollinated in this way.  The next to last picture shows figs that are actually too big to be pollinated by this method.


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Reply with quote  #15 
Congrats on the successful hand pollination, and thanks for the post, it was interesting and informative. I have some wasp made seedlings thanks to Greenfig and his little flying friends. If rust resistance is one of your goals, almost all of my resistant seedlings came from either Ronde de Bourdeaux or Strawberry Verte. Two varieties rainy area hybridizers should have IMO. Good luck with your seedlings.
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hoosierbanana

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Reply with quote  #16 
I made a couple crosses last year with an unknown caprifig that had persistent edible profichis. At first I tried the toothpick method, but the sap prevented the pollen on the toothpick from getting in I think. What ended up working was something I read in a translation of a Japanese patent for using Ga3 to increase the number of stamens on edible caprifigs. Poke a hole through the ostiole with the toothpick and then shove a ripe stamen in there. Pollination was spotty, half of the female flowers at best. It worked on figs about that size.

The caprifig died back to soil level this spring so I won't be making any crosses this year unfortunately, maybe I will get to see if the main crop is persistent though. Have about 150 seedlings from GM 171 "Gludi" and much fewer from Easton Vasilika (Verte type). 

The best way would be to find a tiny "brush" that can hold pollen on the bristles and distribute it inside the fig without damaging the flowers. Then find a slightly larger stainless steel tube to pull the brush into and protect it from the sap while inserting. But finding those things small enough is going to be tough.

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helike13

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Reply with quote  #17 
Now to wake up the topic....

Let's imagine if we use pollen from a wild Ficus... when to take the pollen? No pollen in the wild Ficus' fruits when ripe. And no caprifigs... all specimen are identically the same, both male and female flowers in the syconium. Take the pollen if half ripe? Because if ripe that means it is already pollinated...

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Reply with quote  #18 
Hi Helike13,
You may have forgotten that male-part of a flower is mature and dies before the female-part of the same flower actually can be pollinated.
This avoids flowers pollinating themselves. They need to be pollinated from a nearby flower. It is so in most of the flowers that have both female-part and male-part.

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helike13

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Reply with quote  #19 
Yes I know this... I want to extract male pollen from a wild Ficus to pollinate Ficus carica varieties...

Pollen of some wild Ficus species can cross pollinate Ficus carica. We know interspecific hybrids of F. carica.

Another question.... do these interspecific hybrids follow the wild parent's hermaphroditic flowers or rely on F. carica caprifigs to set fruit?

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CharlesC

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Reply with quote  #20 
Helike13, the way I check if pollen is ready in carica is to squeeze the ripe fruit once or twice in june, and look for a bit of smoke. No pollen smoke means it needs more time. The timing of other species may be a bit different, but pollen should be available around 2-3 months before that species normally has it's main crop. Check a few fruit weekly. Pollen can be stored if kept cool to help with timing differences. Good luck.
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helike13

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Reply with quote  #21 
I wonder that Ficus palmata is monoecious or gynodioecious like F. carica...
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