Meet the Easier-to-Care-for Alternative to the Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
The fiddle leaf fig tree has had its 15 minutes of fame, and Ficus benghalensis—a.k.a. Ficus Audrey—is ready to steal the spotlight.
If you’ve been looking around for the perfect fiddle leaf fig tree to bring into your home, you’re not alone—though you may want to rethink your decision.
“On our online store, I’d say the fiddle leaf ficus probably is the most popular plant that we sell, but it’s actually a really challenging plant to take care of,” says Rebecca Bullene, owner and founder of Greenery NYC, a botanic design company based in New York City. “But it’s actually a really challenging plant to take care of. It’s really sensitive to hot and cold air drafts, and when it gets cold, it loses its leaves.”
In other words, the fiddle leaf fig tree may not be the best option for new plant parents. (Even some semi-accomplished home gardeners may struggle to keep one healthy.)
Instead of this Instagram-famous ficus, consider Ficus benghalensis, a relative of the fiddle leaf fig tree.
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Ficus benghalensis, also called Ficus Audrey, has dark velvety leaves that reflect light well, which gives the canopy a sort of sheen. Young Ficus Audreys have foliage everywhere and develop a more traditional trunk-and-canopy look as they mature; unlike some other trees, it doesn’t look scraggly during its early months and years.
“The Ficus Audrey is just one of those plants that, from day one, is a really beautiful statement piece,” Bullene says. Plus, as it gets older, Ficus benghalensis develops a thicker trunk than many other indoor trees do. That thick trunk, paired with the thick canopy, gives the tree a robust, healthy look.
The tree can also develop aerial roots that grow down and grip the soil, which can make it look like the gorgeous, enormous banyan trees of a nature film. (The tree has a storied history under its banyan tree pseudonym: The Buddha sat under the banyan tree as he gained enlightenment, Bullene says.) These aerial roots can also be safely trimmed, if you’d prefer your Ficus benghalensis maintain a clean, refined look.
And, best of all, Ficus benghalensis is easier to care for than some of its peers. It’s much more tolerant of environmental shifts than the fiddle leaf fig tree and can quickly bounce back from a period of under- or over-watering. (So if you forget to ask a friend to water the plants while you’re gone for a long weekend, your Ficus Audrey will be just fine.)
“It’s less fickle than some of the other plants in the ficus family,” Bullene says.
The explosive popularity of fiddle leaf fig trees—formally known as Ficus lyrata—is likely due to some combination of their speedy growth rates, attractive large leaves, and overall size and growers’ decisions and supply, Bullene says, though that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect house tree for everyone.
“The problem is, people may put it in a place and get a great Instagram shot, but two months later, it’s actually really struggling,” Bullene says. “It’s losing leaves, and it’s not looking great.”
At her business, Bullene says they’re selling more and more Ficus Audreys, especially to designers and other design experts. Bullene herself is a fan: She has a years-old Ficus benghalensis in her living room, pictured above. If you’ve struggled to keep fiddle leaf fig trees alive in the past, try the Ficus benghalensis—you may have better luck.