Habitat: All over the world.
Cultivation: Not so difficult. Put it in a bright spot, water it carefully; regularly during the vegetative season and sparingly during the Autumn, to stop completely any irrigation in Winter.
Curiosity: It owes its name to the Fig tree, the most popular species in the genus.
Ficus is a vast genus of about 850 species in the family Moraceae, including all kind of plants: from trees to shrub, epiphytes or vines.
Being one of the widest genera of flowering plant, the genus Ficus has been divided into many subgenus:
Ficus are widespread all over the world, although being native to the tropics. It’s the genus of the fig tree, Ficus carica, a tree famous all over the world for its edible, sweet fruits. Also many other Ficus species produce edible species, but they are usually known and consumed only by local populations.
It’s almost impossible to give a unique despription for the genus Ficus, as it includes all kind of plants. Most species are evergreen, while a few ones are deciduous. The unusual fruit structure, known as a syconium, is hollow, enclosing an inflorescence with tiny male and female flowers lining the inside. What distinguishes this genus, though, is the peculiar pollination system, bond to specific species of wasps in the family Agaonidae. This wasps have a complicated reproductive cycle, part of which take place inside the fruits of Ficus plants. They in fact lay eggs inside the figgs (included the figgs of Figg trees!), and, meanwhile, they pollinate the microscopic, numerous flowers inside the figg. We may eat some wasps while having an appetizer based on figs! On the other hand, without these wasps, figgs wouldn’t have been edible.
Another common feature to all Ficus is the yellowish latex, which keeps parasites away and, in some areas, is even used for the production of a precious rubber.
Ficus are also popular among bonsai lovers, as many speceis are used to make bonsais.
Some ficus species are caudiciform, which means that they are equipped with a caudex. A caudex is an evolutionary device of plants native to semi-arid areas: it is a wooden enlargement of the trunk used as a storage of water and nutrient to face hard times of drought. The ornamental species, such as F. elastica, don’t usually flower at our latitudes, because the specific pollinator wasp is missing. However, their beautiful foliage make them appreciated anyway in the world of ornamental gardening. Another feature of the foliage is that the leaves change their shape depending on the various life stages.
In its natural habitat, Ficus can becom huge plants. As houseplant, however, they don’t exceed 2 meters of maximum height. They are almost always trees or anyway plants with some lignified parts of the stems.
Its leaves are often wide and always simple, sometimes lobated, sometimes oval, sometime heart-shaped depending on the species, sometimes traslucent (such as in F. elastica), sometimes hairy, generally green, but the color depends on the species. For example, some species show tinges of red, or entire portions of the leaves coloured in yellow, etc…
VARIETY AND TYPES
Here below are some species of Ficus:
- F. amplissima
- F. carica
- F. daimingshanensis
- F. deltoidea
- F. erecta
- F. fulva
- F. grossularioides
- F. neriifolia
- F. palmata
- F. pandurata
- F. simplicissima
- F. triloba
- F. crassiuscula
- F. gigantosyce
- F. insipida
- F. lacunata
- F. maxima
- F. mutabilis
- F. nervosa
- F. pulchella
- F. yoponensis
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TIPS FOR GROWING
It’s difficult to give unique advices about the cultivation of Ficus, as there are many different species. Anyway, these general cultivation tip should suit well any kind of Ficus:
- Ficus requires plenty of light duringthe year, so place it in a bright spot but avoid direct sunlight especially during the hottest hours of the day.
- It is preferable to keep it at mild temperatures and never below 12 °C, for this reason it is recommended to shelter it during the winter period.
- Water regularly but moderately during the growing season (when the new leaves are born), always making sure that the soil is always dry between one watering and the next one. During the dormant period (when the leaves begin to turn yellow and fall) suspend watering.
- The best soil is a well-draining and porous one, even better if further enriched with 50% or more of inert materials such as pumice, lapilli or clay.
- Some species need nebulization at least once a week.
- It’s important, regarding mainly the large leaf species, to clean the any dust that is deposited on the top of the leaves.
- They do not need frequent fertilization: it is sufficient to dilute the fertilizer with watering once a year.
The propagation method to be used depends on the species: it can be through cuttings, seeds or by simply taking off its offsets and replanting them into a sandy substrate.