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  • Mount Etna aka Mongibello aka Marseilles Black & cultivars with many names or strains

    Much of the below I posted as a sub-comment on the recent Celeste thread. I thought it might be a good if related topic in its own right:

    The Mount Etna aka Mongibello aka Marseilles Black cultivar goes by many names (link is my site) which may all be strains of a single cultivar. Some may be significant sports. Some may be their own cultivar. Most may be virtually identical in leaf and fruit, growing habits and other features. Salem Dark is said to be more vigorous than most of the other strains. Marseilles Black is said to be more productive. Takoma Violet is said to produce more breba. Hardy Chicago is said to be more easily damaged by cold. And plenty of contradictory evidence exists as well. Mutations are going to happen. Mix-ups in labeling and variations in growing conditions (sometimes undetectable) are going to further complicate sorting it all out.

    Other common cultivars, such as Celeste and Brown Turkey, also seem to consist of different strains with different names and somewhat different fruits, leaves, and other features. Though no cultivar seems to go by as many different names as the Mount Etna / Mongibello / Marseilles Black cultivar.

    Though not as greatly individualized and differentiated by distinguishing names as the Mount Etna cultivar, some strains and specimens of the Celeste cultivar are said to fruit after dieback to the ground, some are said not to. Some Celestes seem to have jagged lobed leaves, some seem to have smooth lobed leaves, some Celestes seem to drop figs, some seem not too. As with the Mount Etnas, I've seen a little bit of many of these results firsthand and like many have been making informal (non-scientific) records. It seems that more people possibly for longer have been paying more close attention to naming and observing Mount Etna varieties than Celeste varieties or Brown Turkey varieties.

    I wonder what would have been the results if Dr. O'Rourke had chosen to work with Mount Etna figs rather than Celeste figs. I find Marseilles Black, for example, to be more flavorful than Improved Celeste, let alone Celeste, though both of those Celestes are very good and probably typically have higher sugar content. I wonder what an Improved Marseilles Black hybrid would be like. Taste like a Barnisotte but ripen earlier and be hardier? Was humidity and rain resistance of the Celeste cultivar the deciding selection factor for Dr. O'Rourke? Is Celeste much or any more resistant to humidity and rain than the Mount Etnas?
    Tony WV 6b

  • #2
    Tony, thanks for your post. Eventually I hope to narrow down my group (Sal'sEL, Takoma Violet, Marseilles vs Black) to 1-2 varieties. I'm sure that will be easier said than done. It does seem like there is fertile ground for breeding Mt. Etnas (and Florea) with other tasty figs to combine cold hardiness with other desirable characteristics.
    D-i-c-k-e-r-s-o-n, MD; zone 7a
    WL: Castillon, Fort Mill Dark, White Baca


    • #3
      I'm with you Steve, I have quite a few Mt Etna types (5 or 6, I think) and only really need 1 or 2...maybe three if there's something special that makes a variety stand out from the rest. I have Sal's and Hardy Chicago...considering how much debate there was in the past if they are the same or not, do I really need both?

      You ask an interesting question Tony, I wonder what could be done breeding with Mt Etna types...
      SE PA
      Zone 6


      • #4
        Dr ORourke's goal with fig breeding was to improve the fig growing industry in Louisiana. Celeste was the most common fig grown in LA orchards and homesteads. The few other common figs he worked with were also southern figs, I believe. He worked with what was already popular, known, and tested for the Deep South.

        I don't believe he was a fig expert when he took on the program, so might not have been familiar with figs from elsewhere.
        SW PA zone 6a


        • #5
          I think of the Mt Etna group of figs as less like a single cultivar, with exact DNA except a mutation here and there, and more like a specific breed of dogs, say black poodles which all look pretty similar. In the wild, their common fig parents all looked about the same and the wild caprifig parents were similar too.

          Waiting for the future fig researcher to explore the wild figs on Mt Etna and waiting for the day of detailed genetic analysis of figs to be possible and affordable.
          SW PA zone 6a