Brown Turkey Fig (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’)

Brown Turkey Fig, Fig Tree

If you want to plant a low-maintenance fruit tree, consider the Brown Turkey fig. In this guide, we’ll explore what a Brown Turkey fig tree looks like, how to plant one, and what diseases threaten its ability to survive.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Ficus carica is a gynodioecious, deciduous tree or large shrub that grows up to 7–10 m (23–33 ft) tall, with smooth white bark. Its fragrant leaves are 12–25 cm (4+1⁄2–10 in) long and 10–18 cm (4–7 in) wide, and are deeply lobed (three or five lobes).

The fig fruit develops as a hollow, fleshy structure called the syconium that is lined internally with numerous unisexual flowers. The tiny flowers bloom inside this cup-like structure. Although commonly called a fruit, the syconium is botanically an infructescence, a type of multiple fruit. The small fig flowers and later small single-seeded (true) fruits line its interior surface. A small opening or ostiole, visible on the middle of the fruit, is a narrow passage that allows the specialized fig wasp, Blastophaga psenes, to enter the inflorescence and pollinate the flowers, after which each fertilized ovule (one per flower, in its ovary) develops into a seed. At maturity, these ‘seeds’ (actually single-seeded fruits) line the inside of each fig.

The edible mature syconium develops into a fleshy false fruit bearing the numerous one-seeded fruits, which are technically drupelets. The whole fig fruit is 3–5 cm (1–2 in) long, with a green skin that sometimes ripens toward purple or brown. Ficus carica has milky sap, produced by laticifer cells. The sap of the green parts is an irritant to human skin.


Like other plant species in the family Moraceae, contact with the milky sap of Ficus carica followed by exposure to ultraviolet light can cause phytophotodermatitis, a potentially serious skin inflammation. Although the plant is not poisonous per se, F. carica is listed in the FDA Database of Poisonous Plants.

Organic chemical compounds called furanocoumarins are known to cause phytophotodermatitis in humans. The common fig contains significant quantities of two furanocoumarins, psoralen and bergapten. The essential oil of fig leaves contains more than 10% psoralen, the highest concentration of any organic compound isolated from fig leaves. Psoralen appears to be the primary furanocoumarin compound responsible for fig leaf-induced phytophotodermatitis.

Psoralen and bergapten are found chiefly in the milky sap of the leaves and shoots of F. carica but not the fruits. Neither psoralen nor bergapten were detected in the essential oil of fig fruits. Thus there is no conclusive evidence that fig fruits cause phytophotodermatitis.

II. How to Grow and Care


It prefers bright, indirect light. When used as an indoor potted plant, its leaves may burn in blazing sunlight, high temperature, or poor ventilation, so shade it properly. In winter’s weak sunlight, place it in a site with relatively strong sunlight to ensure brighter colored leaves. It can tolerate shade and grow in places with low light, but a long period of sunlight shortage will stop its growth and cause leaves to fall.

Temperature and Humidity

The Ficus carica is not a hardy tree that will tolerate temperatures below 10°F. Therefore, the Brown Turkey Figs need a drier climate with light spring rains. Hence it is heat tolerant.

When a lot of rain is present during the fruiting period, the figs will split and spoil. At the same time, semi-arid climates are ideal if irrigation is available.


The Brown Turkey Fig is drought tolerant, and mature trees do not need much water. But most fig trees prefer having moist soil when there is fruit on the trees.

When there is not enough water, it affects the fruit’s taste and size. To help retain moisture around the shallow roots, add some mulch using organic matter around the base of the shrub.


Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’ prefers fertile soil and cannot resist barren ground. It does not like sticky soil with poor drainage, so a plot rich in organic substances and not easily compacted is preferred. The soil should be slightly acid, with a pH of 6-6.5. When used as a potted plant, mix leaf mold, garden soil, and organic fertilizer at a ratio of 4:3:3.


Common fig ‘Brown Turkey’ planted in a garden does not require much fertilizer; apply compound fertilizer 2-3 times a year. For potted plants, in addition to the base fertilizer in planting soil, apply compound fertilizer once two weeks to support growth. Use fertilizer with lower concentration more frequently to avoid burning the roots.

Apply fertilizer in the evening of a sunny day to aid its absorption. Reduce fertilization in winter, as growth slows or stagnates in low temperatures. For mosaic or variegated varieties, use less nitrogen and more potassium fertilizer once a month to keep the variegation.

Planting Instructions

The best time to plant this tree is in early spring or late fall when the tree is dormant. You can plant it in the ground or a container, following this process:

  • Since fig trees can grow to be 20 to 30 feet wide and put down deep roots, select a planting site that’s far away from your house and other plants.
  • Dig a hole that’s a few inches deeper and wider than the spread of the roots.
  • Set the tree on a small mound of soil in the middle of the hole.
  • Spread the roots away from the tree without excessively bending them.
  • Plant the tree two to four inches deeper than it was planted in the original container. You can look at the trunk to find the soil line that indicates how deep it was.
  • Refill the hole with soil and water until the water reaches the root system.


Without timely pruning, the main branches of common fig ‘Brown Turkey’ tend to grow quickly, but axillary buds cannot sprout side branches due to long-term restrained state, which greatly reduces the ornamental value since the plant has only one tall main stem. Therefore it is necessary to pinch it in time, that is, to cut off the terminal buds of common fig ‘Brown Turkey’ when the plant grows to about 60 cm in height.

After that, the axillary buds will sprout quickly, and 3-4 side branches in different directions can be retained and cultivated as the lateral main branches of the plant while other excessive axillary buds should be cut off. When the plant grows to 80 cm in height after 1-2 years, it is necessary to pinch it again and cut off the small buds on the top of all branches, with the length of the side branches not exceeding 60 cm. 3-4 small branches can also be retained on each side branch of the plant, and the shape of the plant will become round and look better when they grow up.

As the tree grows many branches, air ventilation and light transmission become poor, so pruning is important. Regular pruning also produces more new leaves. When cut, the branches of common fig ‘Brown Turkey’ leak milky sap, which eventually hardens and seals the wounds, so wear garden gloves when pruning.


You can start your fig tree with cuttings and do it in three different ways.


  • Depending on the winter temperatures, you can do ground layering.
  • Take a low-growing branch measuring up to 8 inches and bury it in the ground.
  • Leave that portion to develop a root system before removing it from the parent plant.


  • In late winter, after frost passes, cut from a small branch about three years old. Choose a branch of about ¾ inches thick and 12 inches long.
  • Make a flat bottom cut with a tip cut at a slant. Seal the slanted end with a sealant and use the rooting hormone of the flat end.
  • Gather a few cuttings and place the flat end into deep holes about six inches wide and a foot apart.
  • Water well and wait for the cuttings to grow to 48 inches to transplant the following winter season.


  • Follow the same steps above for taking your cuttings. Then line a pot with some newspaper and add a standard potting mixture. Place up to four cuttings you treated in the pot and fill them with soil.
  • Water the seedling well and place a two-liter bottle over it with the bottom removed. Keep these indoor plants warm in bright indirect light and water when the soil is dry. After you see new growth, you can remove the bottle.
  • As more growth appears, you can plant it in a larger pot or in the garden.

Pests and Diseases

Like most fig trees, the Brown Turkey Fig also gets its fair share of pests and diseases. Some diseases are as follows:

  • Aphids, mealybugs, spider mites.
  • Anthracnose is a fungal disease causing black to brown spots on the foliage and leads to yellow leaves wilting. You can treat it with a fungicide.
  • Fig rust starts with small orange spots, and the foliage dries. You can control it with a copper-based fungicide.
  • Fig mosaic is spread by mites and develops with blotches on the leaves. The best way is to treat these pests naturally using a horticultural oil like Neem oil.

These are a few diseases that can cause problems, but pests are the main reason why these fungal to viral infections start.

Several species like fig scales, beetles, nematodes, and vinegar flies are causing havoc on these shrubs.

You can use insecticidal soap for some insects, but you may need to find something more effective for others.


Your Brown Turkey Fig becomes dormant during winter and will not survive freezing temperatures.

Yet, you can cover your shrubs with burlap in the fall or early winter to prevent them from dying back too much.

Another prevention method is to fasten the branches using rope and pull them together before wrapping the stem with burlap.

III. Uses and Benefits 

Culinary uses

  • Food

Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, and used in jam-making. Most commercial production is in dried or otherwise processed forms, since the ripe fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well. The widely produced fig roll (“Fig Newton” is a trademark of Nabisco) is a biscuit (or cookie) with a filling made from figs.

In the Northern Hemisphere, fresh figs are in season from August through to early October. Fresh figs used in cooking should be plump and soft, and without bruising or splits. If they smell sour, the figs have become over-ripe. Slightly under-ripe figs can be kept at room temperature for 1–2 days to ripen before serving. Figs are most flavorful at room temperature.

  • Nutrition

Raw figs are 79% water, 19% carbohydrates, 1% protein, and contain negligible fat (table). They are a moderate source (14% of the Daily Value, DV) of dietary fiber and 310 kilojoules (74 kcal) of food energy per 100-gram serving, and do not supply essential micronutrients in significant contents (table).

When dehydrated to 30% water, figs have a carbohydrate content of 64%, protein content of 3%, and fat content of 1%. In a 100-gram serving, providing 1,041 kJ (249 kcal) of food energy, dried figs are a rich source (more than 20% DV) of dietary fiber and the essential mineral manganese (26% DV), while calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K are in moderate amounts.

Medicinal uses

  • Phytochemicals

Figs contain diverse phytochemicals under basic research for their potential biological properties, including polyphenols, such as gallic acid, chlorogenic acid, syringic acid, (+)-catechin, (−)-epicatechin and rutin. Fig color may vary between cultivars due to various concentrations of anthocyanins, with cyanidin-3-O-rutinoside having particularly high content.

  • Folk medicine

In some old Mediterranean folk practices, the milky sap of the fig plant was used to soften calluses, remove warts, and deter parasites.

Since the late 1800s, syrup of figs combined with senna has been available as a laxative.

Brown Turkey Fig (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’) Details

Common name Brown Turkey Fig, Fig Tree
Botanical name Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'
Plant type Edible
Hardiness zone 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Fall
Height 10 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
Width 10 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition High Organic Matter
Flower color Brown/Copper
Leaf color Brown/Copper