Ficus plants originated in India and Southeast Asia. Today, they are widely used houseplants and range from those small enough to occupy a sunny windowsill to full-sized trees that grace the corridors of shopping malls. Ficus plants require little attention and aren't often bothered by pests. Several species in the Ficus genus commonly sell at nurseries as houseplants. Within each species, you may also find different cultivars that give you a choice of size, growth habit and foliage color.
Describe the shape of the plant. Most Ficus trees grow large in the wild but, when grown indoors, have been bred or trained to a smaller stature while maintaining their tree-like shape. A few Ficus species have atypical growth habits that can help you to identify them. The creeping fig (Ficus pumila) grows as a vine and will quickly cover any and all surfaces up to four stories. The large leaves of the fiddleleaf fig (F. lyrata) tend to give it a shape that branches less than other Ficus species when used as a houseplant.
Describe the shape of the leaves. Most Ficus species have oval-shaped leaves, but the creeping fig has heart-shaped leaves. The Alii species (F. maclellandii) grows long, thin, pointed leaves.
Observe the color of the foliage. While most Ficus produce dark green foliage, the Cuban laurel (F. retusa) is notable because the immature leaves are pinkish in color, giving the tree a two-toned coloration.
Measure the size of the leaves, if the tree has oval-shaped leaves. The fiddleleaf fig contains enormous leaves that can grow up to 15 inches in length. The rubber tree (F. elastica) also grows large leaves, which measure between 5 and 12 inches in length. The weeping fig (F. benjamina) tends to have the smallest leaves of the oval-shaped Ficus species, measuring 2 to 5 inches in length.
Feel the leaves. As broadleaved evergreens, most Ficus develop leathery leaves, although they vary significantly in thickness. The rubber tree develops the thickest leaves. The weeping fig has thin, leathery leaves, and the leaves of the Cuban laurel resemble those of the weeping fig but tend to be stiffer.
Tips & Warnings
- Some species of Ficus trees can grow up to 40 feet in the wild, so learn the final size of the plant before purchasing it and bringing it indoors. Smaller cultivars exist for the more popular species, such as the weeping fig.
- Despite differences in appearance, most Ficus species have similar preferences. As tropical plants, they like warm weather and sun, and can usually withstand brief dry spells. Keep them clear of cold and drafts.
- University of Minnesota Extension: Rubber Trees, Weeping Figs, and Other Friendly Ficus
- Floridata: Ficus pumila
- University of Oklahoma Department of Botany and Microbiology: Plant of the Week -- Ficus lyrata, Fiddle-Leaf Fig
- Washington State University: Interior Plantscaping Plant Lists -- Alii Ficus
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Ficus elastica -- Rubber Tree
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Ficus retusa -- Cuban Laurel
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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