Fig Trees: The Dark Side

Landscaper in love. That’s me. If you read my last article you know that I absolutely adore everything about my backyard edible fig tree (Ficus carica). It feeds me. It gives me shade. It pleases my eyes. And it attracts pretty birds to my garden. I love my fig tree.

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Unfortunately there is a dark side to fig trees. Fig trees can be invasive in some parts of California. They have infested and overrun forest waterways and stream sides in California’s Central Valley and its surrounding foothills. Edible fig trees have also escaped and overtaken moist areas in the Channel Islands and along California’s southern coast. If you live in these parts of the state, and especially if you live near a natural waterway, open space, or a nature preserve, you should refrain from installing an edible fig tree. I feel the urge to insert a disappointed emoji face here. Yes, it is sad.

The problem with figs in moist areas is that they form dense thickets that are difficult to eradicate. The roots are stubborn and re-sprout even if when the trees are cut down to the ground. When the branches weep downward and touch the ground they can form roots that cause the thickets to grow and expand. Fig thickets can dominate and drive our native valley oak trees and other native plants in riparian woodlands. This is not a good thing.

The edible fig is listed on the California Invasive Plant Council’s (Cal-IPC) Invasive Plants of California’s Wildland list. We must be careful where we plant and install this tree in California. At the same time this is not an immediate call to remove your backyard fig tree. In the right place, a fig tree is a joy and an asset.

If you live in the North Bay of San Francisco, note that the Marin Municipal Water District’s invasive plant list currently allows fig trees to be planted. The Napa Watershed Information and Conservation Council does not list fig trees as an invasive plant species present in the Napa River watershed. I did not find any authoritative references about fig trees being invasive in Sonoma County either.

So enjoy your fig tree. Eat its fruit. Shade bathe under its summer canopy. Dress your salads with juicy fig dressing. Sip fig brandy.

But be careful to contain its roots if you live near a waterway. If you are concerned about fig roots becoming invasive on your property, consider planting your fig tree far away from any existing creeks. You can also place fig trees in pots or install root barriers to contain runners – like you would with bamboo.

Stay posted and I’ll tell you more about figs and fig trees in the days and weeks to come.

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