of the Fig Tree
Eleni was a 97 year old Cypriot neighbour of mine. She is just 4ft 1inch
tall, walks a mile to the shop every day and lights candles outside her
front door every night to guide the angels when they come to collect her
! She is a fiercely independent soul and only relies on us neighbours to
do the heavy jobs that she can no longer manage.
And so it was with some concern, a few weeks ago, that I heard a noise
that sounded just like a tree being felled – and the noise seemed to
come from Eleni’s back yard. A quick jog (well, fast walk really) round
to her house, and the source of the noise was clear. A massive fig tree
branch, heavily laden with fruit, had broken from the main trunk and
crashed down, narrowly missing Eleni as she hung out her washing.
Naturally she was very upset and frightened and it took a lot of
soothing noises, and a promise from Peter (another neighbour) and I that
we would cut down the whole tree the following morning to calm her down
( and a few extra candles that night).
Chain saw, axe and bow saw were the tools of choice as we attacked the
offending tree. In temperatures of nearly 100F, stripped to the waist
and with sweat pouring off us it took just 3 hours to reduce the tree to
a pile of wood stacked and drying, ready for the log fire next winter. A
very satisfying morning and a very happy Eleni, but little were we aware
of the revenge that was fermenting in the decimated fig tree.The
following morning, Isobel my wife noisily scolded me for not using the
factor 50 sun cream the day before when working out in the sun. And
indeed it did feel sore on my back, front, arms and even my hands – in
places where the sun rarely ventures. As the day wore on, so the
soreness became more intense, despite layer upon layer of soothing
creams, and a quick enquiry over the garden wall revealed that Peter was
suffering the same symptoms. It was only that evening, while enjoying a
meal at the taverna, that the cause of the rapidly worsening skin
redness, soreness and blisters was explained.
The Vengeful Fig Tree
cover yourselves up when cutting Eleni’s fig tree didn’t you? ’ said Andree, the
taverna owner. Well, to be fair, in temperatures approaching 100F nothing could
have been further from our minds - could it. ‘ Never touch the leaves or wood of
a fig tree after dawn, when the sap has risen ‘ were her words. And indeed they
were the words of many other knowledgeable Cypriots who made sucking noises of
reproach and sympathy but, the problem was, no-one had told us before we
embarked on the destruction of the fig tree!!
followed a whole week of the intense soreness, redness and skin destruction
associated with a chemical burn. Blisters the size of teacups, painful splits at
joints and skin folds and an extreme hypersensitivity to the extent that even
the touch of clothing made the eyes water. Probably the most soothing sensation
was just to stand in the swimming pool !!!
it got worse !!
search on Google found the following comments.
Fig trees ooze a white latex sap from pruning cuts. This
sap contains an irritant called ficin that can cause dermatitis. Wear
gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, full-length pants, a hat, and
full-coverage eye goggles (not just glasses) when pruning fig trees,
then wash thoroughly afterward.
The latex from the fig tree contains a proteolytic
enzyme, ficin which is extremely irritant to skin and to the
Special cells in the plant produce a latex that contains
ficin, a protein-decomposing enzyme similar to papain. Contact with skin
causes dermatitis, making use of gloves advisable when working with or
took weeks for the skin soreness and blisters to heal and Peter and I are left
with an orange / brown pigmentation of the affected areas. We may well have done
Eleni a favour by chopping down her fig tree but the vegengeful tree didn’t do
us any favours. I am sure that my next contact with a fig will be the dried
variety in a box at Christmas.