FICUS — Fig
Evergreen and leaf-losing trees, shrubs and climbing plants only one of which, the common Fig, is reasonably hardy as far north as New York City. Numerous kinds are known, some being trees of very large size found wild in tropical forests. Several are suitable for outdoor culture in southern Florida and southern
The various kinds of Ficus emit a milky sap (latex) when the bark is injured; this soon coagulates. At one time the latex of one or two kinds had a market value as rubber.
Ficus is the Latin name for the Fig tree, which belongs to the Mulberry family, Moraceae. It is interesting to note that the Sycamore of the Bible is Ficus Sycamorus, and the wood of this tree was often used by the ancient Egyptians for making coffins. Specimens are commonly found in old tombs.
The Rubber Plant. Of Ficus grown as ornamental pot plants one of the best-known is F. elastica, the so-called Rubber Plant. It is a native of Malaya and India, and there and in other tropical regions forms a large widely branched tree which produces aerial roots from the branches; these descend to the ground and form ordinary roots as do those of the famous Banyan Tree, Ficus benghalensis. F. elastica can be grown as a pot or tub plant and persists well as a house plant; its large, handsome glossy-green leaves are always attractive and in some varieties are beautifully variegated. A particularly handsome green-leaved variety is F. elastica decora, which has broader leaves than the common kind.
Cultivation in Pots and Tubs. Few plants are easier to grow in containers than the Rubber Plant and its relatives. All they need is a well-drained soil of reasonable fertility, a location where the temperature is between 60 and 72 degrees (a few degrees higher or lower on occasion does no harm) and moderate light. Shade from really bright sun is desirable; the plants thrive without any direct sun.
Repotting of specimens in large containers needs attention at intervals of several years only; small plants benefit from being transferred to slightly larger receptacles whenever their pots become well filled with healthy roots, which usually means repotting every year. Late winter or spring is the best time to attend to repotting.
Healthy plants that have filled their pots with roots benefit from being fed at two-week intervals with dilute liquid fertilizer. Sponging the leaves occasionally with soapy water removes accumulated grime and promotes health.
Old plants that have become tall and "leggy" can be reduced in size by severe pruning in spring. After pruning, water should be given more moderately until new growth is well started. Such plants can also be reduced in height, and young plants obtained from them, by air layering.
Taking Cuttings and Air Layering. The Rubber Plant and its relatives are easily propagated from shoots 6-12 in. long, or single eyes or buds can be removed from the branches and rooted. These cuttings are inserted in spring in sand and are placed in a warm, moist propagating frame in a greenhouse—temperature 60-65 degrees F. When plants are becoming too tall for their positions, the stems may be air layered. See Air Layering.
With Colored Leaves. Ficus elastica variegata has green and cream-colored leaves; it is scarcely as hardy as the green-leaved kind and does not stand so well in living rooms. F. elastica Doescheri has green, gray and cream-marked leaves.
F. Cannonii, which some authorities call Artocarpus Cannonii, is an attractive kind for growing in tropical greenhouses. It has heart-shaped or tri-lobed leaves of a rich purplish-bronze color. Another interesting colored-leaved kind is the shrubby F. Parcellii, a Pacific Island species with thin leaves handsomely marbled with creamy-white, which bears varicolored fruits. Variegated leaved varieties of F. rubiginosa, F. pumila, and F. radicans are cultivated and are attractive.
Other Kinds. At least as popular as the common Rubber Plant as a house plant is the Fiddle-leaved Fig. F. lyrata, with large green, fiddle-shaped leaves. It requires the same general culture as F. elastica. Yet another Ficus worth growing in pots for house decoration is the Australian F. rubiginosa, which can also be grown in the same way as F. elastica. F. religiosa, the Bo or Peepul Tree of India, is worth growing as a pot plant on account of the curious character of the leaves. The blade of the leaf is more or less heart-shaped but the apex is drawn out into a very long point. The tree is found in tropical rain forests and the long-pointed leaves are one of Nature's provisions for carrying off water. Ficus benjamina and its variety called exotica have drooping branches and shining green leaves and make good house plants, so does F. diversifolia, Mistletoe Fig, a shrub or small tree with small stiff leaves and at all times an abundance of tiny yellow fruits. F. altissima has broad-oval thick shining green leaves with ivory veins.
A Self-clinging Creeper. F. pumila (repens) is a slender-stemmed, small-leaved climbing plant used for covering the =walls of greenhouses, for it withstands a good deal of shade and supports itself by means of aerial roots. It behaves in a manner similar to the Ivy, for as soon as it reaches the top of its support it changes its character, and takes on a much more vigorous, bushy habit with larger leaves. It is this stage that bears flowers and fruits. F. pumila makes an attractive basket plant, and so does the trailing F. radicans. There is a great difference in size among the fruits of the various kinds of Ficus, some being
larger than the finest forms of Common Fig, others being no larger than garden Peas. As the flowers are very small and inside the fruits, there is no floral attraction.
Outdoor Culture. The kinds of Ficus mentioned as suitable for growing as indoor pot plants are hardy outdoors in southern California and southern Florida, where they thrive with little attention on a wide variety of soils. The larger ones such as elastica, benghalensis, lyrata, religiosa (Pepul, Peepul or Bo Tree), retusa, Sycamorus, aurea, and macrophylla (Moreton Bay Fig), become trees of considerable size.