An overview on Ficus pollination with some notes on Ficus carica

Dan Eisikowitch [Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants, Tel Aviv University, Israel];
Mahua Ghara [Botanical Garden, Tel Aviv University, Israel]

Ficus species are characterized by a specialized pollination by wasps of the family Agaonidae. Pollination involves entry of female wasps into an enclosed spherical inflorescence (syconium) with a minute opening (ostiole). Each syconium contains along the inner wall hundreds of unisexual flowers and the ostiole is the only point of access to these flowers. Upon entering the syconium the Agaonid wasp carries out pollination services as well as oviposition in these flowers within the syconium. The wasp often dies inside the syconium after pollination. Pollination and therefore seed development can occur only if this specialized interaction exists. Offspring of pollinator wasps cannot develop in the absence of syconia of the host Ficus. The same pollination mechanism is seen in all the members of genus Ficus that comprises of over 750 species growing in habitats ranging from the tropics to sub-tropics and exhibiting both monoecious and (gyno)dioecious breeding systems. In monoecious species seeds and wasps develop inside the same syconium, whereas in (gyno)dioecious species, the plant, based on its sex either produces seeds or pollinator wasps. Pollination in Ficus is mediated by chemical signals (volatiles emitted by the fig host) and the mode of pollination is either active or passive.
Native to the temperate Mediterranean region, the edible figs (Ficus carica) have been cultivated since prehistoric times. In the wild, the edible fig goes through a complex yet interesting cycle of wasp development and wasp cycling likely owing to the temperate climate. The cultivated edible figs produce fruits with the aid of the pollinator wasp Blastophaga psenes and propagation is by seeds. However during the long interaction of edible figs with human beings, many parthenocarpic varieties have been developed that are propagated clonally by stem cutting. Also, artificial pollination with pollen from different pollen donors has enabled the creation of new cultivars and even new hybrids of edible figs.

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