Ficus benjamina: Ficus tree

Family: Moraceae
Common name: Ficus, Weeping fig, Benjamin fig, Ficus tree

Ficus benjamina is one of the most common Ficus trees seen in gardens and indoors, and is usually just called ‘Ficus’. They can grow as tall as 30 meters when grown outdoors with dropping branches and aerial roots. In gardens they grow about 3-4 meters, and is even smaller when grown indoors. Ficus trees thrive indoors and is one of the most hardy, low-maintenance indoor plants.

According to NASA’s Clean Air Study, Ficus trees are capable of removing toxins to reduce indoor air pollution. Younger leaves are tender, light-green in color, becoming glossy and dark green when they mature. Ficus trees can be pruned severely into desired shapes and they grow right back, with beautiful green leaves. They grow well in tropical climates and is a preferred tree in Indian gardens.

Their inflorescences are spherical or egg-shaped containing male and female flowers. Fruits are light green initially, and then turns yellow and red when they ripen. These fruits are edible and a favorite with most birds, who help in dispersal of the seeds.

Ficus trees have very strong roots that can lift pavements and sidewalks; and hence they are not preferred as roadside trees. There are many cultivars of the this tree, with light green or dark green leaves; with white variegations; and also bonsai plants.

Though Ficus trees thrive indoors, they can cause latex allergies. The latex also has some toxicity causing nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps on consumption. Ficus trees prefer good sunlight, but can tolerate partial shade well. They do not like to be moved around, and will shed leaves very quickly when moved. But there is no need to worry. New leaves adapted to new living conditions will grow out soon replacing the older ones.

Since they are fast-growing plants, they need frequent fertilization and watering. Ficus trees can survive for many years; even indoor plants can be maintained over a lifetime.

In gardens they can be grown as ornamental plants, or as good hedge plants because of their generous foliage and thick branches. In fact, I saw 4 similar Ficus trees in one location; one covered with glowing yellow fruits, one covered with gorgeous red fruits, one having sparse red fruits and another one, completely devoid of any fruits whatsoever. The interesting fact is that all of them looked extremely beautiful.

Propagation is from stem cuttings which root very easily. Though they produce abundant seeds, propagation through seeds is not easy.

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