January Houseplant of the Month: Ficus benjamina

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The story of Ficus...

Beautiful leaves and an attractive structure make Ficus one of the most popular houseplants and indoor trees around. The plant is a member of the Moraceae (mulberry) family, which also includes the fig, rubber plant and hop plant. 

Ficus benjamina is distinguished by the oval leaves, 3 to 13 cm long, with a pointed tip, and by the white sap in the woody trunks, stems and leaves. One notable feature is that the Ficus flower does not look like a flower. It’s a ‘false fruit’ which contains the tiny male and female organs which, after pollination, produce a small fig. The plant will only flower when it’s mature. It is mainly juvenile forms of Ficus that are offered as houseplants, which do not yet produce these false fruit (flowers). Improvements in cultivars and cultivation mean that Ficus benjamina is enjoying quite a comeback. One decisive factor for the consumer is often the plant’s air-purifying effect on its surroundings. Ficus is evergreen. 

Origin 

Ficus grows in South and South-East Asia and Australia. The largest Ficus Benjamina can be found in India, with a crown diameter of 131 metres and more than 1775 aerial roots which support the tree. 

What to look for when buying Ficus

● When buying Ficus, look for a healthy leaf colour and good shape. The more balanced the plant’s shape is and the fuller its foliage, the greater the decorative value. 
● When white variegated cultivars have been travelling for a long time, they can drop leaves due to lack of light.
● The plant should be free of disease and pests. With Ficus, be particularly alert for woolly aphids and scale insects. 
● The thicker and more leathery the leaf, the less sensitive the plant is to lower humidity, and therefore easier to care for. 
● Ficus benjamina is sensitive to cold - something to think about during the colder months. At temperatures below 12-15°C it’s a good idea to have it wrapped carefully at the time of purchase.

Choice of range

The Ficus genus is extensive. Ficus benjamina is the most varied species within the range. Dozens of cultivars are available. The one thing all varieties have in common is the pointy leaf tip. They differ in terms of leaf colour, colour pattern, leaf size and leaf shape: from green to white variegated cultivars, with small or larger leaves which are entirely smooth or have a wavy edge or gutter. The plant’s name is linked to these characteristics. There are various classic and modern forms, with a single, twisted or woven trunk, branched, bush shape or espalier being the most common. 

Care tips 

● Ficus requires a light position. The more variegated the leaves, the more light the plant needs. However, it’s best to avoid bright direct sunlight, particularly in the summer months. 
● The lighter the plant’s position, the more water it needs. So adapt the amount of water to the position and water regularly: the soil should never dry out entirely. 
● Give less water during the hibernation period in winter, and make sure the water isn’t too cold. Place the plant outside in a refreshing rain shower in the spring and summer. 
● Plant food once a month will keep your Ficus attractive and strong. 
● Any yellow or ugly leaves can be pulled off.
● Leaf drop in autumn and winter is usually caused by dry air indoors from central heating. Humidifiers are a solution to this. 
● If the plant gets too big or less attractive, it can be pruned, preferably in the winter months with sharp secateurs. When the days start to get longer, the plant will produce new leaves of its own accord. The white sap released when pruning is not toxic, but it is a bit sticky. It’s a good idea to wash your hands after pruning.

Sales and display tips for Ficus benjamina

The attractive shape, strong look and easy care makes Ficus very suitable for students, offices, public spaces and plant lovers with little time or a lack of green fingers. Ficus is a green air purifier and the plant can also be placed on the balcony or patio in the spring and summer to create a tropical mood. 

 

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