Ficus: Greenhouse Plants
W – warm, minimum of 13°C (55°F)
This is a very versatile group of plants, containing as it does species with such a variety of habit. One of the best known must be Ficus elastica the Rubber Plant from tropical Asia. Not, perhaps, for the small greenhouse, a group of these is an impressive sight in a large house or conservatory. F. e. ‘Decora’ is the bolder, sturdier variety usually seen. In addition there are several different coloured varieties. F. e. ‘Black Prince’ is a lovely dark leafed plant. One of the most striking is F. e. ‘Zulu Shield’ with very bold markings of pink, cream and greens. When plants become too large a whole new batch can be raised from one plant. The tip can be used in the usual way, but in addition each node with a leaf can be used as a cutting. Cuts should be made just above the leaf and 2.5 cm (1 in) below. The leaf should be curled round and tied with an elastic band and the stem pushed into a pot of cuttingwith the whole cutting being held in place by the leaf being tied to a small cane. Kept warm and moist the cutting will root and the shoot in the axil of leaf and stem will grow to make a new plant. It is important to have the shoot pointing upwards when the cutting is inserted. Having made as many as possible from reasonably soft stem, the whole of the remainder can be cut back hard and new shoots will develop from the stump. If you are afraid to tackle all this they can also be air layered.
F. benghalensis is the Banyan of India and tropical Africa. The stems, shoots and undersides of the leaves of this large growing, branching plant are covered with russet hairs. Although it is at its best in warm and tropical conditions it will survive well in a cool house. F. benjamina from India is the familiar Weeping Fig which becomes a large tree in its native habitat. Even in the warm greenhouse it will become very tall if planted out. Vigilance is necessary to prevent scale insects from becoming a problem. Many a fine specimen has been ruined by the stickiness and sooty mould resulting from such attacks. In recent years there have been some fine varieties of this species produced with good variegated leaves and a smaller habit. F. diversifolia (F. deltoidea) is the attractive Mistletoe Fig from India and Malaya. It is a strange thing with the Figs that you never see them flower. They do this secretly in a receptacle hidden by scales. This species bears small inedible yellow fruit all year round which is its chief attraction. It is also a manageable size, usually within 90 cm (3 ft). From China and Japan comes a small trailing species, F. pumila (F. repens) or Creeping Fig. This has small round leaves and will either trail over a pot or will climb. If left to its own devices it often climbs up glass walls fixing itself with clinging roots as it goes. There are various varieties with variegated leaves, variegated margins of the leaf, very small leaves and crinkly leaves. F. religiosa is the Peepul or Bo Tree of the Hindus and hails from the East Indies. I have never found it easy to get going. It seems to need a lot of heat to do little more than exist. However, it is worth trying for its unusual heart-shaped leaves which tail off to a fine point. As well as propagating easily from cuttings seed of the Ficus should be easy to germinate and sizeable plants can be raised within a year.