Ficus is a genus of about 850 species of woody trees, shrubs, vines, collectively known as figs. They are native throughout the tropics with a few species extending into the semi-warm temperate zone. The common fig, Ficus carica, is a temperate species native to SW Asia and the Mediterranean which has been widely cultivated from ancient times for its fruit, also referred to as figs.
Figs are also of considerable cultural importance throughout the tropics, both as objects of worship and for their many practical uses. Most are evergreen, but some deciduous species are native to areas outside of the tropics and to higher elevations.
The specific identification of many of the species can be difficult, but figs as a group are relatively easy to recognize. Many have aerial roots and a distinctive shape or habit, and their fruits distinguish them from other plants.
All figs possess a white to yellowish latex, some in copious quantities; the twig has paired stipules and the lateral veins at the base of the leaf are steep, forming a tighter angle with the midrib than the other lateral veins.
Ficus species suitable for bonsai:
Ficus neriifolia: Narrow Leaf or Willow Leaf Fig.
Found in Asia, particularly China and India.
This variety has small, narrow leaves that produce excellent branch ramification. They are capable of producing good basal rootage and excellent aerial root formation in humid conditions. Has a habit of dropping leaves if stressed so should be kept in ideal growing conditions.
Ficus benjamina: Weeping Fig
Oval, thinly leathery leaves, easily available but less desirable as indoor bonsai. They do not like heavy pruning to the trunk and branches so work should be done gradually. They defoliate easily when stressed. Branches will quickly dieback if no foliage is left on them after pruning or defoliation. Always leave a strong bud or leaf at the very end of the branch to encourage sap-flow.
Leaves, can be all green or variegated
Ficus microcarpa: Chinese Banyan
They have oval, glossy, dark-green leaves up to 10 cm long. The Chinese Banyan is the probably the classic fig for bonsai, especially favoured for its ability to regenerate from very hard pruning, its vigour and willingness to cope under poor growing conditions.
However if you want it to produce the typical aerial roots that are characteristic of this variety, you will need to give it almost 100% humidity; this means tropical greenhouse conditions.
Widely distributed as an ornamental plant and is one of the most common street trees in warm climates
These may eventually provide structural support
Ficus obliqua: - small leafed fig
Found around the Pacific, most notably Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia, it is a form of the banyan type.
Ficus rubiginosa: Port Jackson fig
Again primarily grown in Australia, mostly down the eastern seaboard. Australia has developed species specific to that continent because they strictly enforced laws governing import and export of plant material.
Growing ficus as bonsai:
Ficus is one of the most popular species for indoor bonsai.
These plants are from sub-tropical and tropical areas. Figs are not frost hardy and need to be grown indoors when day or night temperatures are lower than 15°C; this means that growing outside is only possible during full summer. Figs suitability for indoor growth is due to its tolerance of poor humidity levels and poor light levels that prevail in our centrally-heated homes. This tolerance to poor light is largely due to the native habitat of many Figs on the forest floor, shaded by the forest canopy above. Figs are able to tolerate poor humidity levels and dry air with their thick waxy leaves. The better the humidity and light levels are, the more vigorous the plant is. Ficus bonsai should be given as much light as possible to encourage strong growth.
This species does not need much attention. You will only need to water it once or twice a week at most. If you over-water it occasionally, this bonsai will adjust; if you forget to water it on occasion, it will not get mad at you and shrivel up. You will know if you are not giving it enough water because the dark green leaves will start to turn yellow.
A healthy ficus will grow vigorously throughout the year, so long as you keep it warm and not too wet. Some leaves will fall off naturally throughout the year; it is evergreen but each leaf has a life span and is then replaced.
The basic rule is that for every six leaves that grow remove the last three unless you are wanting branches to extend.
Large ficus in Crespi Museum, Milan
Ficus obliqua exhibited in Gold Coast Australia
Port Jackson fig
Willow leafed fig
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