[NAFEX] Big on figs: Elma man turns his interest into a passionate hobby

mIEKAL aND qazingulaza at gmail.com
Thu May 13 12:12:32 EDT 2010

(I want one, might do well in a container in z4)

Big on figs: Elma man turns his interest into a passionate hobby


One magical day on a river bank two decades ago, Denny McGaughy fell
in love with the fig.

McGaughy (prounced ma-goy) was vacationing in California, moseying
around the Sacramento River when he spotted a lone fig tree. He
lowered a branch and plucked one of the world’s most ancient and
succulent fruits.

“It was wonderful,” said McGaughy, a 67-year-old retired environmental
biologist. “I said, ‘This is God’s candy.’ ”

McGaughy has been trying to raise figs ever since at his home in Elma,
30 miles west of Olympia.

His hobby recently yielded a jackpot of sorts. It turns out that one
of the 100 fig trees he’s been nurturing was a previously unidentified

He’s calling it the Olympian.

“I think it’s exciting,” McGaughy said. “It’s a wonderful fig that
grows wonderfully in Olympia.”

McGaughy learned about the uniqueness of the Olympian last fall after
sending samples of 15 fig trees to the National Clonal Germplasm
Repository in Davis, Calif. Funded by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, the repository is among 32 in the country dedicated to
collecting and preserving the germplasm of crop plants, according to
the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Research Service website.
Germplasm is the seed, cells or other living tissue of a plant that
can be cultured into another entire plant.

With more than 200 varieties of fig trees, the repository represents
the largest collection of fig trees in the United States, and likely
the world, said Howard Garrison, the project’s farm manager.
Repository staff identify the trees by analyzing each specimen’s DNA.

Though it was a close relative of the Latarulla fig, McGaughy said the
Olympian’s genetic fingerprint didn’t match any of the repository’s
fig trees.

It was sweet news for McGaughy.

Getting a fig tree, which flourishes in the arid Middle East, to bear
fruit is no easy task in sun-shy Western Washington. But through years
of experimentation, McGaughy has found several varieties that thrive
and produce figs here.

He thinks the Olympian is the best. He says it’s a hardy tree that can
withstand the South Sound’s cool, wet winters. In late July and early
August, he enjoys the tree’s tangerine-sized plump, purple-colored
figs with bright violet red flesh.

“It’s very, very good,” he said.

About seven years ago, McGaughy obtained the start for the plant from
a century-old tree owned by a woman in Olympia. Now he has 40 starts
of the tree and plans to give them to nursery owners he knows so they
can grow and sell them. He says he isn’t trying to get rich off of

His main interest? “I’d like to see more figs in the Northwest. That’s
been my fun. I’ve given a lot of them away.”

He also wants the name, the Olympian, to stick, unless it’s matched in
the future to an older established variety.

He’s given starts to several nursery operators, including fellow fig
enthusiast, Michael Dolan, owner of Burnt Ridge Nursery & Orchards in
Lewis County. Dolan raises several varieties of figs and sells them at
the Olympia Farmers Market. Dolan said he plans to add McGaughy’s
Olympian to his offerings, but it will be a year before he’ll generate
enough stock to sell to the public.

“We don’t normally associate fig trees with Western Washington,” Dolan
said. “Actually, they’re one of the easiest fruit trees to grow.”

Fig trees grow readily from cuttings, Dolan said, and don’t have
disease or insect problems in this part of the state. Even birds tend
to leave them alone.

The key, Dolan and McGaughy said, is finding the handful of varieties
that will thrive in the South Sound.

Complicating that search: no central body exists to control the naming
of fig trees. The same variety of fig tree could have many names,
depending on what the locals call it or what commercial growers decide
to market it as.

“Anyone can call anything they want,” Garrison said. The repository
analyzes the fig trees’ DNA to clarify which fig trees are the same
genetically while noting their common names.

“People don’t realize what they’ve got,” McGaughy said. “There are 16
synonyms for the Brown Turkey” fig.

To McGaughy, trying to unravel the identity of fig trees is part of
the attraction.

Being the fig fanatic that he is, McGaughy stops to examine fig trees
whenever he spots a new one, whether it’s in a homeowner’s yard, a
business or alongside a rural highway. He says he always asks
permission from residents before taking a cutting or fig, along with
inquiring about the tree’s history.

He can recite the locations of his favorite fig trees in Olympia and
happily recalls the ones he’s seen in his travels.

“There’s a fig growing in Creswell, Ore., that I love. It’s bluish,
kind of like a grape. It’s growing along a school in Creswell,”
McGaughy said. The tree’s owner said his grandfather brought the tree
with him from the East Coast. The Oregon owner gave McGaughy some of
its cuttings. McGaughy sent a sample to the germplasm project, and the
tree was identified as a Celeste from the East Coast.

He realizes that few people share his depth of affection for the fruit
that’s mentioned numerous times in the Bible. As a retired biologist,
he delights in probing the scientific aspects of the fig.

“When I start talking about figs, people start looking at their
watches and yawning.”

But they might grow a bit more interested if they ever tasted a fig.

“The average person doesn’t realize the opportunity they have to grow
figs in Olympia, if they choose the right variety. I’m trying to
educate the public,” he said. “Every person who likes fruit should
have a fig tree.”

Read more: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/05/12/1183238/big-on-figs-a-retired-biologist.html#ixzz0npImRl67

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