Ficus as Houseplants
The Amazing Fig Family
A Big Family! The genus Ficus supplies us with a wide range of useful items from the edible fig to tires for our car.
Many of them also make wonderful houseplants. F. elastica is a large tree that can be tapped for it’s latex containing sap. That’s the car tire connection. As a houseplant
we try to greatly curtail its size and can be relatively successful if we keep our pruners handy.
Are They Edible? Ficus carica, the edible fig, does not make a great houseplant and will rarely produce the desired fruit when grown in normal household conditions. They do make great container or patio plants in more temperate climates and also respond well to being trained along walls.
Great Indoor Trees! Probably the most common tree that is grown indoors is F. benjamina, often called Weeping Fig or just Benjy. Very large specimens are in most airports or shopping malls and others, curtailed by pot size and a little judicious pruning, make great small trees in our homes. Their success rate (true of all houseplants,) is determined by the amount of light they receive. They thrive in a high light situation and suffer greatly as the light levels decrease. In our homes a high light situation would be in front of a south or west facing window. In these situations Benjy is a delightful tree with light brown bark and small glossy green leaves. Keep it evenly watered and it will brighten your room for many years.
How Many Are There? There are about 800 species in this family and only a few, (various leaves pictured right,) of them make reasonable house plants. They include the two large trees above as well as couple of vines that can be used as hanging baskets in the house or wall climbers in a conservatory.
This One’s Creepy! Ficus pumila is a small leaved evergreen climber with a woody stem. It will make a interesting hanging or trailing specimen requiring moderate light and the need for consistent moisture. It is one of those plants that never wilts to indicate water stress. It goes from looking fine to crispy dead when its water supply drops too low.
Will They Flower? Yes, they have been known to flower as houseplants but the real question is; Will I notice or care? Here the answer is usually, no. This plant family is defined by their unusual flowering habit. The flowers appear inside a fleshy shell with only a tiny opening to the outside. They are pollinated by particular wasps that go through that opening to lay eggs inside the fruit. If you cut open an edible fig, the soft fibrous interior is actually, thousands of individual flowers facing inwards. Very interesting. Very tasty in the edible fig. Not very showy. On Ficus benjamina you may get little green pea sized balls developing and then being a nuisance as they fall to the floor. When you sweep them up you are collecting hundreds of Ficus flowers.
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