Get to Know (and Love!) Ficus
DNA testing is all the rage these days. Finding lost relatives and discovering where your ancestors came from is fun and fascinating. But when it comes to houseplants, you don’t need to do a DNA test to find relatives. All you really need to know is the botanical name of a plant to determine familial ties, especially if your favorite plants don’t look very much alike.
Take the Ficus family for example. Two of my favorite plants, Fiddleleaf fig and Rubber Plant are members of this group, yet you’d never know they are cousins just by looking at them.
Fiddleleaf fig, (Ficus lyrata, left) for example, develops huge, leathery, paddle-shaped foliage that adds beauty and interest to any room of your house. (That's why it’s the darling of the interior design industry.)
Native to the jungles of West Africa, fiddleleaf fig requires bright indirect light (a tiny bit of direct sun is ok) and consistently moist, but not wet soil. Indoors, fiddleleaf fig has a tall, narrow habit and can grow 6 to 8 feet tall. There’s also a dwarf form called 'Little Fiddle' fiddleleaf that remains more compact than the standard variety. These big beauties hate cold drafts so keep your fiddleleaf fig away from leaky windows and doors during the winter.
Rubber plant (Ficus elastica, left), develops thick, oval, green, burgundy, or variegated leaves and thrives in bright light and slightly moist soil. It’s native to parts of Asia including east India, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Like its Fiddleleaf cousin, Rubber plant prefers slightly moist soil, but if you forget to water now and then, the plant won’t mind at all.
I once found two very sad looking 18-inch-tall burgundy rubber plants on sale at my local garden center. I don’t think they’d been watered for a long time. But, once I brought them home, repotted them together in a larger pot with fresh soil, and gave them a drink they sprang back to life. Today, my two sad adoptees have formed one large, thick, 5-foot-tall bush that looks amazing on my summer patio. They spend the winter indoors because they are frost sensitive.
Other members of the Ficus family also make outstanding houseplants. They include: Ficus 'Alii', Weeping Fig, Dwarf Weeping Fig, Climbing Fig, and Creeping Fig. They all look very different and come from different parts of the globe, but they’re all relatives with similar cultural needs.