ABOVE: A variety of the Edible Fig, Ficus carica “Chateau Kennedy” grown in France. Of the c. 850 species of figs in the world, many are edible by humans but only one species Ficus carica is tasty enough to be cultivated commercially for its fig fruits.
Ficus carica originated in the sunny, seasonally dry lands stretching from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan. The preferred climate is temperate with a long hot summer and a cooler wetter winter.
Numerous attempts to grow Ficus carica commercially in the open, in the ground in the much wetter climates of the Malay Peninsular, Singapore and Borneo have always failed. When Ficus carica is planted in the ground the roots are rapidly attacked by nematodes and the leaves by beetles and other insects.
In Borneo, it is possible to grow Ficus carica in pots protected from the rain and surrounded by insect proof nets. However the cost and effort involved means that that this unlikely ever to be viable on a commercial scale.
Fig expert Professor E J H Corner (1985) describes his attempts to grow Ficus carica in the Singapore Botanic Gardens
“Its introduction to tropical countries has been tried many times by the Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Dutch; yet it is very rarely that one meets a living tree in the evergreen tropics. In 1934 I brought 16 plants of four varieties from England to Singapore. They started well and grew rapidly until, after a year, twigs were dying back, riddled with weevils; branches were being bored by larger beetles; leaves were being eaten by others; plant bugs attacked new shoots; and, finally, a large longicorn beetle excavated the base of the trunk and main roots. I have not seen another plant so devastated. An Italian friend in Johor introduced several varieties from Italy a year later and planted them beside the bungalow of his rubber estate. They flourished briefly and succumbed exactly as mine in Singapore.” Corner (1985) Essays on Ficus, Allertonia Vol.4 No.2.
Anthony Lamb who successfully introduced many commercial fruits to Sabah at the Agricultural Research Station at Tenom was also unsuccessful in growing Ficus carica even though Tenom has one of the driest most seasonal climates in Sabah.