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Link: • Carl Linnaeus to Carl Hårleman, September? 1744 n.s.
Dated 1744. Sent from () to (). Written in Swedish.


During his latest visit to Uppsala Carl HårlemanHårleman, Carl
(1700-1753). Swedish. Nobleman,
architect, royal superintendent.
Correspondent of Linnaeus.
had shown an interest in figs and asked Linnaeus to write a description of this species and its cultivation. This letter is devoted to fulfilling Hårleman’s wish.

As is well known, hemp appears in two shapes: male and female flowers. So does the fig-tree, too. All ordinary fig-trees here are females, but if you plant their seeds, nothing happens because they have not been fertilized. Therefore, propagation is achieved by using roots and saplings.

On the islands of the Aegean Sea where figs are very common the inhabitants have two kinds of figs: one female like ours and a male called caprificus. The male tree gets fruits that are very small and fall off before ripening. During this period in June the farmers pick these small fruits and tie them on the female fruits. The male fruits have hundreds of male flowers inside.

The female flowers are closed up inside the fruit. Fertilization is carried out by small flies living inside the male fruit. They carry pollen on their bodies, and when they force themselves into the female fruits to lay their eggs inside the seedbuds, they fecundate the pistils. The eggs develop into larvae that feed on the fig sap until they become flies. Then the newborn flies leave the female fruits and bore into the male fruits instead where they start feasting on pollen. Linnaeus is amazed at the divine mastermind behind this arrangement.

Levantine figs fertilized in this way do not fall off the branches easily and produce an impressive harvest: a fig-tree in Provence yields 25 pounds, whereas a Levantine one yields 280.

This year Linnaeus has sown fig seeds in the Uppsala University Botanical Garden and has now eight trees. If at least one of them turns out to be a caprificus, he will test the Levantine method.

Jean François SéguierSéguier, Jean François
(1703-1784). French. Antiquarian
and botanist, Nimes. Correspondent of
of Verona has promised Linnaeus figs full of fly eggs. He will fix them to the female figs and study the process of fertilization. The dear Crown Princess [Lovisa Ulrika Lovisa Ulrika, (1720-1782).
Swedish. Queen of Sweden 1751-1771.
Married to Adolf Fredrik. Mother of
Gustav III. Sister of Fredric II of
Prussia. Correspondent of Linnaeus.
] will no doubt love to see this.

Of course, it would mean an enormous time saving if a caprificus could be imported directly from the Aegean.

All this and more can be studied in Cornelius Hegardt’sHegardt, Cornelius (1715-1772).
Swedish. Town physician, Gävle.
thesis on figs [Linnaeus refers to Disputationem botanico-medicam inauguralem qua Ficus, ejusque historia naturalis & medica exhibeturLinnaeus, Carl Disputationem
botanico-medicam inauguralem qua Ficus,
ejusque historia naturalis & medica
, diss., resp. C. Hegardt
(Uppsala 1744). Soulsby no. 1389.


a. original holograph (KVA).


1. Bref och skrifvelser (1917), vol. I:7, p. 131-134   p.131  p.132  p.133  p.134.