Fig trees are most easily recognized by these characteristics:
- Big leaves with five distinct lobes.
- Figs never produce flowers.
- Fruits that grow on distinct stems.
- The bark is smooth and usually gray.
- Size ranging from 4 feet to 30 feet tall (1–9 meters).
By looking for several of these signs, you’ll quickly become a pro at recognizing the common fig tree. Although there is quite a lot of variation in fig growth patterns and fruit color, you can focus on the common traits to properly identify this fruit tree.
5 Ways to Identify a Fig Tree
Although there are dozens of varieties of figs, you’ll know whether or not you’ve found a fig tree by taking a closer look. Here’s what to look for to be certain you’ve spotted a fig tree.
Figs are famous for their big, distinctive leaves. Take a close look at the tree you’re trying to identify. If the leaves are the size of your hand or larger, it may be a fig. To be certain, inspect the leaf shape. Fig leaves have five lobes. A large central lobe that points forward, two big lobes on either side of the central lobe, and two small “spur” lobes that point out toward the sides.
- Fig leaves range from hand-sized to dinner-plate-sized.
- Each fig leaf will have 5 lobes.
- Fig leaves are dry to the touch and may have a texture like thick paper.
Feel the leaves to get an even better idea if it’s a fig. Fig leaves feel dry to the touch, not waxy. There may even be a papery or “velcro” feeling to the underside of a fig leaf. Plus, you will be able to feel the veins of the fig leaf. There will be one large vein in each of the 5 leaf lobes. Smaller veins will branch off from these.
Fig trees never flower. So, if the tree you’re trying to identify has ever produced visible flowers, it’s not a fig. The flowers of a fig are actually hidden inside the fruit, which makes fig tree pollination very unique. Most fruit trees flower, so figs stand out from their peers.
- Fig trees never have flowers.
- If the tree has flowers, it is not a fig tree.
- Most fruit trees develop flowers in spring and lose them before summer.
Looking for flowers to help with fig identification may not always be possible. Fruit trees tend to flower in spring. If you’re trying to identify a tree during summer or fall, don’t count on spotting flowers. Although some trees flower into summer, most lose their flower petals by June.
When you are trying to determine if a fruiting tree is a fig tree, take a close look. Figs grow on short stems that sprout just next to the leaf stems on the branches. If you see small fruits on stems 1 inch long (25 mm), or shorter, it’s another sign you’ve found a fig.
- Figs grow on their own short stems that sprout alongside leaf stems.
- Mature fig fruits are 1–2 inches long (2.5–5 cm) and shaped like small pears.
- Fig fruits have thick, pliable skin.
- The fruit of the common fig tree ranges from green, to brown, to black.
- For an easier time finding fruit, read our article on when figs are in season.
As figs ripen, some change color. A ripe fig can be brown, purple, black, or it may stay green. However, all figs have a unique shape, with a narrow top and a wide bottom with a “button.” Fruit that is 1 to 2 inches long (2.5–5 cm) and is shaped like a Hershey’s kiss is a fig. Lus, figs have thick, almost leathery skin. It is very different from the skin of other fruits.
Smooth, Gray Bark
Feel the bark of the tree as you identify it. Fig trees are known for having pale bark with a very smooth or fine-grained texture. Although fig bark can sometimes have cracked patches, it is not shaggy or rough. Most fig trees have gray bark, sometimes with white areas. On occasion, some fig trees can have light brown bark.
- Figs are known for their smooth bark.
- Fig bark ranges in color from light gray to light brown.
- Rough, scaly, or shaggy bark means the tree is not a fig.
If the tree you are looking at has very rough bark, thorns, or fuzzy bark, it is not a fig. Figs are not usually so smooth that they feel slick, but the texture might feel lightly pebbled. It is similar to the texture of a basketball, in most cases.
Some fig trees can reach a respectable height, but they are never extremely large trees. Even the biggest fig trees never grow larger than 30 feet tall (9 meters). So, if the tree you’ve spotted is much taller than this, it is not a fig. Although they do not reach extreme heights, fig branches grow outward from the trunk at great lengths. This, combined with their massive leaves, makes figs excellent shade trees.
- Figs range in height from 4–30 feet (1–9 meters).
- Trees larger than 30 feet tall are not figs.
- The common fig tree is typically 12–15 feet tall (3–4 meters).
Of course, fig trees can be very small. Not only are baby figs tiny, but there are dwarf fig trees that grow at heights of 4 to 10 feet (1–3 meters). Most commonly, fig trees fall into a middle ground. A height of 12 to 15 feet (4–5 meters) is average. So, if the tree is around this height, it may be a fig.
Are Figs Bushes or Trees?
Figs can be grown as trees or bushes, depending on the region and grower. It is more common to find figs growing as trees. A fig plant that is cultivated as a tree will have a central trunk with several branches that spread out to shade a relatively large area. You are most likely to find figs grown as trees in warm areas, such as the American south and west coast. My parents and grandparents grew figs where I grew up in Texas. I most recently planted fig trees in Central California, where they are a common garden addition.
- Figs can be grown as bushes or trees.
- You will see fig trees in warm regions with mild winters.
- Figs are grown as bushes in cooler regions that experience some frost or snow in winter.
- You can grow a fig as a tree or a bush, depending on how you prune your fig.
Fig bushes are composed of several stems that grow upward from ground level. There may be as few as four stems on a fig bush, or more than a dozen. Most fig bushes have stems that are two fingers thick. The bushes rarely grow taller than 5 feet (1.5 meters). They are grown in slightly cooler regions, such as the lower midwest. Growing figs as bushes helps them resist cold damage in these regions.
How Do You Identify Fig Trees?
To check whether or not a tree is a fig, first look at the leaves. Leaves that are the size of your hand or larger, have five lobes, and are dry to the touch means you have found a fig. Second, figs never produce flowers. If your tree has no flowers while other trees are in bloom, it may be a fig. Fig fruits are unique in their size and shape. They resemble small pears with thick skin. Usually, fig trees have smooth bark that is pale gray. Finally, although figs can be very small, they rarely grow taller than 30 feet (9 meters). Look for several traits to determine whether or not the tree is a fig.