The inner life of the fig
September 13, 2015 10:01 AM   Subscribe

The Queen of Trees is a documentary (52 minutes) on the sycomore fig tree, focusing on the intricate mutualism between a fig tree and its fig wasp. Filmmakers Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble spent two years camped out in the Kenyan bush to capture fascinating scenes of life around the sycomore, including inside the figs.
posted by parudox (17 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
(There's also a summary with some more links at Nature Documentaries.)
posted by parudox at 10:03 AM on September 13, 2015


Did he write this on his Newton?

sorry
posted by jonmc at 10:16 AM on September 13, 2015


David Attenborough did a wonderful segment on figs and fig wasps as part of "The Private Life of Plants" in 1995.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 10:20 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fig Newtons are among my very favorite cookies. When I was still vegetarian, in high school, my dad tried to convince me that fig newtons are not vegetarian because fig wasps die for their figs. Then he tried to convince me that when I was eating fig newtons, I was also ingesting wasps. I hate wasps. I was not convinced that this posed any sort of ethical dilemma.

I am no longer vegetarian, and every time I eat a Fig Newton, I rejoice over the death of a wasps I might be ingesting through the highly-processed figs in the Newton, and hope that I have also stolen their strength and made it part of me.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:32 AM on September 13, 2015 [14 favorites]


This looks like it will be lovely; I'm looking forward to sitting down when I have time to enjoy it this evening.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:48 AM on September 13, 2015


Figs are amazing. My parents have two fig trees in their backyard. This summer, the first day that a good amount of figs were ripe, I walked around the trees holding my T-shirt out as an apron,* pushing them in my mouth and gathering them by turns. It was one of the few experiences, I think, that I will ever be able to share with a woman from thousands of years ago. In the days after that, the figs kept coming, and I kept chopping them up and making freezer jam, and it turned out no one wanted figs because they either had a tree or knew someone who was pushing figs on them from their tree. Shortly I was sick of figs. But this Christmas they will be part of some fantastic baking.

I cut open an unripe fig and examined it, and I don't believe that tree was pollinated by wasps, but I had decided not to care. I don't eat meat, but I eat honey, and I'm pretty sure I've seen a leg in raw honey.

-----
* Don't do this. Fig sap has some kind of latex in it and the stains never came out of that shirt.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:50 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is possibly my favorite documentary - I was so excited to find it on YouTube. I watch it every two or three years and just watched it a couple of weeks ago again. Every few minutes it drops another mind-blowing fact of connectivity and inter-dependency between species . It's surprisingly high-definition video given its age, too, even on Chromecast. Highly recommend watching with someone who's never seen it, it's fun watching every new detail sink in. You know how watching certain types of documentaries can make you feel so incredibly small? This one gives a different feeling in the end, kind of hard to describe, but more like being so large in a world where the tiniest (so tiny! those wasps could fly through the hole in a needle!) things have such intricate relationships with all the flora and fauna in their environment.
posted by mireille at 10:57 AM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Fig Newtons are among my very favorite cookies. When I was still vegetarian, in high school, my dad tried to convince me that fig newtons are not vegetarian because fig wasps die for their figs. Then he tried to convince me that when I was eating fig newtons, I was also ingesting wasps. I hate wasps. I was not convinced that this posed any sort of ethical dilemma.

That's fascinating ChuraChura -- I recently found out that, like bromeliads, figs contain a powerful protease, and I think it's reasonable to guess that, also like bromeliads, figs are getting really valuable nitrogen from their insect visitors by essentially digesting them.

I love figs, but they tend to make my teeth sensitive, and since whitening toothpastes that contain Bromelain make my teeth sensitive in an indistinguishable way, I'm inclined to think the protease is responsible in both cases.

I wonder whether there are traditional dishes that take advantage of the fig protease to tenderize meats -- such as a fig-based marinade, for example.
posted by jamjam at 1:27 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


By the way, don't touch the figs...
posted by Captain l'escalier at 3:30 PM on September 13, 2015


This was phenomenal and beautiful and I'm never eating figs again.
posted by ZaphodB at 6:04 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Echoing others to say this is one of my favorite nature documentaries out there. Nice post!
posted by rosswald at 6:50 PM on September 13, 2015


Fascinating through and through, and I can't even fathom how some parts of it were filmed. Good post.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:38 PM on September 13, 2015


Here's a transcript.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:41 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Science ruined figs for me. I just can't enjoy the crunchy sweetness knowing what has gone on there.

I know flour is full of insect parts, for example, but I learned about that long after I had been eating flour based foods for years.

And there is something more purposeful and less accidental about direct pollination and Alien style larva injection.

The less I know about agriculture, accidental or otherwise, the better.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:23 AM on September 14, 2015


more fruit and crushed wasps with feta cheese and honey for me then
posted by The Whelk at 2:56 PM on September 14, 2015


Yes, you can have the figs *and* the honey. Honey is rather nasty to me, too.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:38 PM on September 14, 2015


*munches on raw honeycomb * oh yess bugs in my mouth
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 PM on September 14, 2015


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