The average gardener would never expect to find the commercial edible fig, small-leafed climbing fig, and potted rubber tree under one common headingbut they are classed together because they bear small or large figs (inedible in most species). Ornamental types are discussed here; for sorts grown for tasty fruit, see Fig.
Many ornamental species make good houseplants. Generally, they thrive on rich, steadily moist (not wet) soil; frequent light feedings; and bright, indirect light.
F. auriculata. Briefly deciduous shrub or small tree. Native to India. To 25 ft. high and wide. Sandpapery textured, unusually large leavesbroadly oval to round, about 15 in. across. New growth is mahogany-red, turning to rich green. Large figs are borne in clusters on trunk and framework branches. Can be shaped into a small tree or espaliered. Beautiful in large container; good near swimming pools. Grow in wind-protected, sunny location.
F. benjamina. WEEPING FIG. Evergreen tree. Makes good houseplant. From India and Malaysia. Grows to 30 ft. tall, with greater spread. Good shade or specimen tree for larger gardens or parks, since it requires space for its invasive surface root system. Used in large containers as entryway or patio tree; also good as screen, espalier, or clipped hedge. Leathery, 5-in.-long, shiny green leaves densely clothe drooping branches. New plants are easy to start from semihardwood cuttings taken between late spring and early summer. Give a frost-free, wind-protected location in sun or shade.
One of the most popular indoor plants for a place in bright light. Sudden leaf shedding is a common problem, often resulting from plant's being moved to a new location. If shedding begins shortly after a move, be patient; leaves usually grow back. Leaves that fall off while green usually indicate insufficient water; try to keep soil evenly moist. If fallen leaves are yellow, overwatering may be to blame. If shedding is accompanied by a sweet smell and sticky leaves, look for scale insects and control with horticultural oil as needed. Don't site weeping figs in drafty areas or near stoves or heat registers.
For an indoor tree that is similar in size and habit to F. benjamina but doesn't drop its foliage, try F. binnendijkii. It can tolerate lower light better than F. benjamina.
As an indoor plant, weeping fig typically grows slowly to 810 ft. tall, not quite as wide. These are among the most popular selections.
'Exotica'. Like the species but has wavy-edged leaves with long, twisted tips. Often sold simply as F. benjamina.
'Indigo'. Open, weeping habit. Thick, glossy leaves are a very dark green when young, maturing to blue-black. Some leaves may be slightly variegated with lighter tones. Quite shade tolerant.
'Midnight'. Compact and bushy, with very thick leaves. Foliage is such a deep green that it looks almost blue-black.
'Monique'. Upright habit. Elliptical, shiny, bright green leaves with ruffled edges. Very resistant to leaf drop.
'Starlight'. Bushy grower. Leaves are variegatedsome almost solidlyin creamy white.
'Too Little'. Dwarf form that may reach only 34 ft. high after many years; densely foliaged with tiny, slightly curled leaves. Ideal for bonsai.
F. binnendijkii (F. maclellandii). Evergreen tree. Grows well indoors. Similar to F. benjamina but easier to grow indoors, less likely to shed leaves. Dark green, stiff, willowlike leaves reach 7 in. long, less than 1 in. wide. Outdoors, grow in sun or partial shade. Indoors, select a permanent position with good light and no drafts. Let soil go dry between waterings, then soak thoroughlybut don't leave plant standing in water. Dust or rinse leaves with water occasionally. Feed with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer once in spring and once in fall, more often if plant is in very bright light. Pest problems are rare. If scale or mealybugs appear, spray the former with horticultural oil; wipe off the latter with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. 'Amstel King' is similar to the species but has thicker, wider, glossier leaves; when plant is actively growing, leaf tips may be pink or red.
F. deltoidea. MISTLETOE FIG. Evergreen shrub. Makes good houseplant. Native to Southeast Asia. Grows very slowly to 810 ft. high, about half as wide. Interesting open, twisted branch pattern. Thick, dark green, roundish, 2-in. leaves are sparsely stippled with tan specks on upper surface and a few black dots underneath. Attractive, small, greenish to yellow fruit borne continuously. As outdoor plant, most often grown in container on patio. Part shade.
F. elastica. RUBBER PLANT. Evergreen shrub or tree. Makes good houseplant. Native to India and Malaysia. Familiar plant found in almost every florists' shop. It can become a 40-ft. tree in the Tropical South; often seen as a small tree or shrub in shaded tunnel garden entrances in cooler part of range. Comes back quickly if killed to ground by frost. Narrow, leathery, dark green leaves are 812 in. long. New leaves unfold from rosy pink sheaths that soon wither and drop. Partial or full shade.
One of the most foolproof indoor plants; can take less light than most big houseplants. If potted plant becomes too tall and leggy, you can cut off the top and select a side branch to form a new main shoot. Or get a new plant by air layering the top section; when roots form, cut branch section with attached roots and pot it up. The following are among the best selections.
'Abidjan' ('Burgundy'). West African selection made from 'Decora'. New growth, leaf sheaths, and leaf midribs are red. On plants grown in bright light, older leaves are dark maroon.
'Asahi'. Selection from Japan. Similar to 'Doescheri' but with slightly smaller leaves and more extensive creamy yellow variegation.
'Decora' ('Belgica'). The common rubber plant sold for indoor use is usually this selection. Superior to the species because of its broader, glossier leaves. Foliage is bronzy when young.
'Doescheri'. Leaves are marbled in green and gray-green, with green margins, creamy yellow midribs, and pink leafstalks.
'Rubra'. New leaves are reddish and retain a red edge as rest of leaf turns green.
'Schrijveriana'. Broad leaves are variegated in green, gray-green, creamy yellow, and white. Leafstalks are red.
'Variegata'. Long, narrow leaves variegated in yellow and green. Variegation is interesting when leaves are viewed close up in containerbut as an outdoor tree, plant has a sickly look.
F. lyrata. FIDDLELEAF FIG. Evergreen tree or shrub. Makes good houseplant. Native to tropical Africa. Dramatic struc-tural form with prominently veined, fiddle-shaped, huge leaves (to 15 in. long, 10 in. wide) in glossy dark green. In protected outdoor position, can grow to 20 ft. high and as wide, with trunks 6 in. thick. Good near swimming pools. To increase branching, pinch back when plant is young. Full sun or light shade. Highly effective as a houseplant; give bright light. Compact selections 'Bambino' and 'Little Fiddle' have smaller leaves more tightly spaced on the stems, but they still have the potential to be large plants indoors.
F. microcarpa. INDIAN LAUREL FIG, CHINESE BANYAN. Evergreen tree. Native from Malay peninsula to Borneo. Grows at a moderate rate to 2530 ft. high, 3540 ft. wide. Beautiful weeping form, with long, drooping branches thickly clothed with blunt-tipped, 2- to 4-in.-long leaves. Light rose-to-chartreuse new leaves, produced almost continuously, give pleasing two-tone effect. Plants sold as F. m. nitida (a name with no botanical standing) may have the same weeping form as the species or may have upright-growing branches.
Prune at any time of year to shape as desired. Remove lower branches to reveal slim, light gray trunk. Responds well to shearing into formal hedge as low as 5 ft. Where pest free, makes a highly satisfactory tree or tub plant. Unfortunately, subject to thrips damage in some areas; these pests are hard to control, since they quickly curl new leaves (thus protecting themselves from sprays). Afflicted leaves show stippling, then drop. Full sun. 'Green Gem' has thicker, darker green leaves and is apparently unaffected by thrips.
F. pumila. CREEPING FIG. Evergreen vine. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11; or houseplant. Native to China, Japan, Australia. Has a most unfiglike habit; it is one of the few plants that attaches itself securely to wood, masonry, or even metal in barnacle fashion. Because it is grown on walls and thus protected, it is found in colder climates more often than any other evergreen fig. Grows in sun or shade; not for hot south or west wall. Indoors, provide consistently moist soil and a location in bright filtered or indirect light.
Looks innocent enough in youth, making a delicate tracery of tiny, heart-shaped leaves. Neat little juvenile foliage ultimately develops into big (2- to 4-in.-long), leathery leaves borne on stubby branches that bear large, oblong fruits. In time, stems will envelop a three- or four-story building so completely that it becomes necessary to keep them trimmed away from windows. It's safe to use on masonry house walls, but not wooden ones. Remove fruiting stems from time to time as they form. Roots are invasive. 'Minima' has shorter, narrower leaves than the species. Small, lobed leaves of F. p. quercifolia look like miniature oak leaves. 'Variegata' has standard-size leaves with creamy white markings.
F. religiosa. PEEPUL, BO-TREE. Briefly deciduous tree. Native from India to Southeast Asia. May reach 40 ft. high and wide after 25 years or more. Foliage is quite open and delicate, revealing structure of tree at all times. Bark is warm, rich brown. Pale green leaves are thin textured and rather crisp, 4 to 7 in. long, roundish in shape but with a long, tail-like point. They move easily in even the slightest breeze, giving the foliage mass a fluttering look. Leaves drop completely in late spring or early summera frightening experience for the gardener who has bought an evergreen fig. Full sun.
F. retusa. See F. microcarpa
F. roxburghii. See F. auriculata
F. rubiginosa. RUSTYLEAF FIG. Evergreen tree. Native to Australia. A single- or multitrunked, densely foliaged tree to 2050 ft. tall, with broad crown 3050 ft. wide. Leaves about 5 in. long, deep green above, generally rust colored and woolly beneath. Plant may develop hanging aerial roots characteristic of many of the evergreen figs that grow in tropical and semitropical environments. Full sun. A small-leafed form has been sold as F. microphylla. 'Australis' is virtually identical to the species but may vary in having leaf undersides with a less pronounced rust color. 'Variegata', with leaves mottled green and cream, is sometimes sold as a houseplant.