I’ve recently seen a lot of confusion about what exactly Improved Celeste is. Seems two groups of people can’t agree upon which variety should hold that name. We have to distinguish which variety Improved Celeste is in order to do a valid comparison with Celeste fig.
Let’s see what LSU breeds are and how they got so confusing!
LSU Fig Breeds
Louisiana State University started a fig breeding program to create new varieties by crossing, and improve some existing ones. More than 20 fig varieties came out of their program.
Celeste variety was one of the focused ones because it is a great fig variety with few major flaws which they wanted to get rid of. LSU developed many varieties from the original Celeste.
The problem has arisen because not all were officially released. One of the unofficially released ones is the one that people generally refer to as “Improved Celeste.”
The list of fig varieties linked to LSU Fig Program:
- unofficial Improved Celeste (3 strains)
- LSU Tiger
- Jack Lily
- St. Gabriel
- Golden Celeste / Champagne (3 strains)
- Scott’s Black
- Scott’s Yellow
- LSU Brown
- LSU Black
- LSU Gold
- LSU Late Black
- LSU Purple
- LSU Red
- LSU White Honey
- LSU Everbearing
- LSU 5
- LSU 156
Although the list is long, only unofficial Improved Celeste, O’Rourke, and Champagne (Golden Celeste) are confirmed closely connected to the original Celeste.
How Improved Celeste Confusion Happened
Since several of these LSU figs are technically improved Celeste varieties, in my opinion, we can’t call them by that name as long as there is an unofficial “Improved Celeste” going around without an official name.
A possible reason for the lack of an official nomenclature for the variety we generally call “Improved Celeste” is that it was widely assumed to be one of the several LSU-created enhanced celeste hybrids. Even though it was never officially released.
Unofficial Improved Celeste was released by researchers from LSU to their associates long before they thought new breeds were ready for official releases. The goal was to test as many strains as possible to see if they were on the right path.
After a few years to show that O’Rourke was the “genuine” improved Celeste, LSU has formally released the variety. On the other hand, the other fig was already widely available under the generic name “Improved Celeste.”
Although the Improved Celeste was spread through nurseries and actively sold around the US, several nurseries selling the fig had been told that O’Rourke was the Improved Celeste. In other words, they thought that officially released O’Rourke was the same variety that was circling around as “Improved Celeste.”
To this day, some people are still calling O’Rourke the “Improved Celeste.” Even though O’Rourke is technically one of the improved Celeste strains, if we take that name for it, then what do we call unofficially released “Improved Celeste”?
My opinion is that LSU should have titled the O’Rourke fig as “Improved Celeste O’Rourke” or “Improved Celeste O’Rourke” if anybody at LSU intended it to be recognized as the Improved Celeste. Just Fruits and Exotics, Petals from the Past, Almost Eden, and Edible Landscaping would have had to change the name of the fig known merely as Improved Celeste that is not O’Rourke to reflect the fact that it is not O’Rourke.
LSU is the only entity capable of reversing any of this at this point. They could re-release “Improved Celeste” with another name. This time officially.
Now that we established what people mean when they say Improved Celeste, there is actually a bit deeper problem. There are three or more strains of Improved Celeste that are very similar but have few differences.
However, they grow the same, ripen the same, and are only visually different. For the sake of this comparison, there is no need to look at their differences.
Key Similarities Between Celeste and Improved Celeste
The fruit from both fig varieties is almost equal in color, shape, size, and taste. That is expected as LSU didn’t aim to change any of these Celeste qualities but improve upon some of its weaknesses.
Both are sugary sweet figs with similar brown to purple color while ranging from light suede to pink inside. Fig size is medium, but depending on where you live and to fig sizes you are used to, it can be highly subjective.
I would add that I noticed over the years that Improved Celeste tends to be a bit smaller and better shaped on average. Although its shape can seem better purely because of its size, I noticed smaller figs are better shaped.
Both cultivars can yield breba crops in June. Although, my Improved Celeste showed less potential to grow sizeable breba crop as the years passed.
Usually overlooked is the fact that both figs have similarly great drying capabilities due to the optimal size of the eye and skin thickness.
Key Differences Between Celeste and Improved Celeste
The difference between them is where it’s evident that Improved Celeste has really been improved.
The biggest and the most important difference is reliability. While that wasn’t the issue in the south, it was the problem in the southeast and further north.
Celeste fig was unreliable in humidity and cold. Some years people would lose half of their main crop, as figs would fall from the tree or split. On the other hand, Improved Celeste is among the most split-resistant fig varieties.
Improved Celeste isn’t too cold resistant. However, it succeeds in the cold climate way better than Celeste ever did due to its shortened ripening season. Shorter ripening season means the fruit can ripen on time, and the tree can safely go into dormancy before the first frost.
Celeste doesn’t have too long ripening season, but Improved Celeste has one of the shortest.
My Opinion and Conclusion
The fact that Improved Celeste spread so fast without being officially released speaks about its improvements better than anything. Sadly, the same can’t be said about O’Rourke and other varieties that are also improved versions of Celeste.
In my opinion, their improvements are mediocre. The unofficial Improved Celeste fully deserves its name.