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Plant More Trees--Inside!

Someone said to me recently that Ficus trees had lost their popularity. It’s true that the popularity of plants runs in cycles just like fashions do. But the comment started me thinking about the Weeping Fig and other Ficus trees.
The use of Ficus benjamina (Weeping Fig), and its varieties, is the only practical way to have a shade-tree look in the house. They are still used quite a bit in large commercial areas (malls, lobbies, etc.) because they can fill so much vertical space. When installed in these facilities under adequate light conditions, they really offer very little trouble while adding a lot of ambiance.
I think the problem for home owners may stem from the fig’s reputation for shedding. It is the poster child plant for acclimating (or not acclimating) to an indoor environment, dropping brown or even green leaves all over the floor for several weeks. This leaf loss is generally due to a reduction in light levels—these are high light plants. Without enough sunlight to penetrate to the inner part of the tree, those leaves that are using energy, while not producing any, are discarded, leaving the plant with an “airy” appearance that can still be attractive, but not what the customer expected. Once the plant settles in, new larger, flatter, darker leaves are produced. Of course, if the new light level is truly below the plant’s basic needs, the tree will slowly die.
If you have a bright window for a ficus, it really is a pretty plant. Size can be controlled through pruning, and they do not mind being pot-bound, so you may never need to go to huge, heavy pots. The habit of these trees adds a nice natural touch to home or office d├ęcor.
The other problem I hear about from customers is insect infestation, or, as the customers say, “sticky floors.” Scale insect is a common plant pest for ficus, and as the insect sucks the plant sap from leaves and stems, it excretes a sticky, clear starch, which, in a heavy infestation, can drip onto any surface beneath the plant. This starch is sometimes called “honeydew”. When purchasing a ficus, always feel some of the leaves to check for this sticky excretion. Some people automatically add a granular systemic pesticide to the soil to prevent or control this problem. Other plants pests that produce honeydew are aphids, mealybug and whitefly.
However, if you do not want to deal with the almost guaranteed initial shedding of the Weeping Fig, how about trying a different ficus? The Ficus lyrata, or Fiddle-leaf Fig, makes a dramatic statement in any interior space. It has large, violin-shaped leaves and dark, rough bark, and takes a bit of room. The lyrata is available in bush or standard (tree form). Then there is the Rubber Tree (Ficus elastica), popular from the Victorian era to the present, with glossy green or burgundy-green leaves on robust branches. Long considered easy in low light, the plant really looks its best in bright light. In its native habitat, it is a huge tree that resembles a Magnolia grandiflora.
A fun factoid about ficus—the flower is inside of the fruit. The edible fig tree is a relative, but these houseplant ficus also produce small ornamental figs. Some of the popular ficus used in bonsai freely produce these attractive fruits, especially the Ficus ‘Green Isle’ and Ficus buxifolia. Another trait that makes many ficus appealing as bonsai subjects is the production of aerial roots which grow from the branches down into the ground, adding to the girth and interest of the trunk. However, if you find these roots unattractive, you can clip them off, and the plant will still receive its water and nutrients from the roots in the pot.
Posted: 5/18/2013 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: MargotGunn, TheGreatIndoors
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