Mission figs are a type of the common fig fruit, Ficus carica, that was introduced to the United States in 1768. Alternately known as black mission figs or franciscanas, they were brought to the San Diego, California area from the Mediterranean region, where they originated on Spain’s Balearic Islands, and then planted northward along the coast of California by Franciscan missionaries establishing settlements there. They later became the most common kind of fig grown and sold in California, though they were eventually overtaken by the Calimyrna variety, which originated in Turkey and was introduced to California’s San Joaquin Valley in 1882.
Belonging to the Moricae family and genus Ficus, mission figs are a specific cultivar of the Carica species, the edible common figs. There are many varieties of common fig, best grown in dry, warm climates in places like California and Texas in the United States, or in Mexico and throughout Latin America. They also thrive near the Mediterranean Sea in Europe in countries like Italy, France, and Spain, and throughout Western Asia.
Fruit ranges in color from golden brown to green to black, and may be pink, red, or amber on the inside. Trees tend to proliferate very quickly and produce two crop cycles: the breba crop and the main crop. The breba is the early crop cycle, occurring in the spring and producing lower quality fruit, while the main crop comes in the fall.
In the United States, where they are popular as a commercial fig variety, Mission figs generate both a large breba crop and a mid-sized main crop. Mission fig trees, however, can be considered everbearing, meaning that they produce fruit virtually year-round, and they can grow to be quite large. These trees do best in climate hardiness zones 9 and up and are frost-sensitive, but they thrive under a variety of conditions, making them suitable for commercial growth.
Mission figs remain the most popular type of black fig grown in California and are purplish-black when ripe. Shaped similarly to a pear, they are smaller and slightly more elongated through the neck with a flat bottom. On the inside, the fruit is a pale strawberry color and is considered to be a high-quality variety for eating. They may be eaten fresh or dried, though if consumed fresh they must be refrigerated immediately and eaten within a few days. Mission figs are also commonly frozen or made into a jam, a popular offering at American farmers’ markets.