A versatile and tough group of plants often grown indoors, ficus comes in all sorts of forms, ranging from creeping vine to giant tree. Its glossy leaves grow in a variety of colors and patterns. And even though this cousin of the edible fig is a tropical plant, it survives in a wide variety of conditions.
The 850 species span a wide range of looks. Leaves grow dark burgundy on the rubber plant, diamond-shape on the weeping fig, small-as-a-pinky-nail on some creeping varieties, and as large as a football on others.
Ficus Care Must-Knows
Needs vary among the varieties, but generally, ficus prefer well-drained, fertile soil kept consistently moist. Although it can tolerate an occasional missed watering, allowing them to dry out regularly stresses the plant.
When it comes to lighting, ficus plants can be somewhat finicky. Ficus require high levels of light, especially for the best coloring of its leaves. But there are varieties of ficus that tolerate medium to low-light conditions. In low-light conditions, ficus tend to be sparser and can have poorer branching habits. They also tend to be much slower growing in less light. If moved suddenly to a new spot with different light levels than it's used to, ficus can drop a large amount of leaves. Though alarming, the plant recovers once it adapts to new conditions.
In the right conditions, ficus grow relatively fast. If you've got a large kind, this can become troublesome because it can quickly outgrow its space. Regular pruning prevents this and promotes good branching. However, there is a limit to the amount of pruning larger species of ficus tolerate. For woody types, starting a new plant by air layering is the best option.
Air layering consists of scarring or removing some of the bark and dusting the wound with rooting hormone. Wrap it in moist sphagnum moss and dark plastic to keep it moist, humid, and out of the light. In 2 to 3 months roots will emerge. As these roots develop, keep the moss moist, and check every few weeks for root growth. Once roots begin to grow in the sphagnum, cut the stem below the new root and plant.
More Varieties of Ficus
Ficus pumila is a vining plant with small leaves and aerial roots that will cling to a wall or moss pole. It is sometimes used to cover topiary forms. It requires higher humidity and more frequent watering than most ficuses.
Ficus lyrata can become a large tree with violin-shape leaves more than 1 foot long. The stiff, waxy leaves are medium green on top and gray-green underneath.
Ficus deltoidea makes an interesting indoor shrub. It forms spreading branches covered with wedge-shape leaves and many small, inedible green figs that turn red in bright sun. It is sometimes listed as Ficus diversifolia.
Ficus maclellandii 'Alii' is a tree-type ficus with long, narrow, pointed leaves that give it a bamboo appearance. It is sometimes called Alii fig or banana fig, and may be classified as Ficus binnendijkii.
Ficus elastica, also called rubber plant, has stiff, elliptical leaves, often tinged maroon. Grow it as a multistem shrub or a branched tree.
Ficus benjamina 'Starlight' has the same arching plant form as regular weeping fig, but its leaves are ringed with a decorative white band. Variegation is most intense in bright light.
Ficus benjamina 'Too Little' is a semidwarf, slower grower than regular weeping fig. Individual leaves are smaller and rolled or curled, and distance between branches is less, resulting in a more compact tree.
Ficus pumila 'Variegata' is a small-leaf creeper with a narrow band of white on leaf edges. Like regular creeping fig, it likes high humidity and moist roots.
Ficus microcarpa is similar to weeping fig but has slightly larger and more leathery leaves. It is also less likely to drop leaves with changes in light levels or temperatures. The plant is sometimes classified as Ficus retusa nitida.
Ficus elastica 'Variegata' has tricolor leaves of creamy white, gray-green, and green with maroon overtones. Its coloration is most intense in bright light.