The genus Ficus, also known as fig, belongs to the family Moraceae and includes about 850 species distributed in tropical and subtropical zones. Figs are woody trees, shrubs, climbers, epiphytes, and Hemi-epiphytic. Ficus are native to the tropics of Asia, Africa, Australia, and Central America. Many Ficus are tall forest trees that are supported by great spreading roots, while some are planted as ornamentals.

Physiology of Ficus

Many Ficus species are evergreen. There are few deciduous members in non-tropical areas. Their leaves are generally waxy and simple and mostly emanate white or yellow latex when broken. Several species of Ficus have aerial roots, and many are epiphytic. The unfamiliar fruit structure, called syconium, is hollow, enclosing an inflorescence with tiny male and female flowers covering the inside.

Fig Wasps ficus fruit

Some native Australian fig trees need fig wasps for successful pollination and the wasps rely on the tree to complete their lifecycle.

An exceptional pollination syndrome describes members of the Ficus genus. Each species is pollinated by and houses a specific wasp. This unique pollination system has an important influence on the tropical forest ecosystem.

Ficus Wasp Fig

In the USA a Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) feeding on ripe fig (Ficus).

When a pollen-bearing wasp leaves a Ficus plant, the fruit quickly ripens, providing an ironic banquet that fascinates a host of mammals and birds However, as a sign of a short lifetime of adult wasps, some trees receive and release fig wasps during the year. The outcome of this pattern results in a steady supply of fruit, making Ficus fruits a critical resource for many animals when other foods are unavailable.

Importance of Ficus

Amongst the species which are cultivated, the Ficus afzelii, F. elastica, F. benghalensis, F. benjamna, F. infectoria, F. lyrata, F. pumila, F. microcarpa, F. ottoniifolia, F. parasitica, F. macrophylla, F. religiosa, F. pyriformis, F. platypylla, F. platiboda, F. laurifolia, F. roxbughii, etc. are grown for their ornamental values, either as landscape plants in the tropics and subtropics or foliage plants used for interiorscaping. Additionally, the Ficus species have also many useful and important natural products which are widely used as food and as medicine.

Medicinal Uses

The Ficus plants are revealed to possess antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-epilepsy properties. The species of Ficus are a significant source of compounds such as tannins, phenols, alkaloids, steroids, flavonoids, vitamin K, stigmasterol, β-sitosterol-d-glucoside, methyl oleanolic, and octacosanol, which are useful in immune-modulatory, hyperlipidaemia, hyperglycemia, anti-oxidant, anti-tumour, and anti-bacterial. Here are the five (5) best Ficus plants which you can grow in your garden for ornamental purposes in Melbourne

1) Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

The common name of Ficus elastic is Rubber plant. It is native to Southeast Asia. They are not related to the rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) from which rubber is derived. They contain a latex-like substance similar to the latex-derived Hevea brasiliensis. The latex derived from Ficus elastica is toxic if ingested. It is also harmful to the skin and eyes and irritates them, so be careful when handling these plants. It is a good idaea to wear gloves whenever you handle this plant.

Ficus Elastica

Ficus Elastica (Rubber Plant) is an attractive indoor plant. Very easy to propagate, they are also tolerant of low light and dry air indoors.

 

Due to the large and glossy leaves, the Ficus elastica is the exotic and decorative choice for outdoor, but its limited hardiness makes it too delicate to plunk in a sunny yard. Ficus elastica is relative to the banyan tree and grows aerial roots like a banyan. The height of this plant is up to 100 feet tall. The tree has broad oval-shaped and shiny leaves about 12 inches long. Most leaves were of dark green, but due to new cultivars, some variation was observed. Small white flowers are common when the trees are grown outdoor but rare when grown indoors. The trees do not produce fruits outside their native range because the fig moth pollinated the flower is found in Southeast Asia.

  Caring for elastica

The plant requires full sun or partial shade to grow outdoors. They favour heat and humidity, so covering the roots in the 2-inch layer of mulch should be good for it, due to which the sol will moist for a longer period. Watering the tree in the morning is best because water on leaves during the night is an invitation to diseases. After three months with a balanced fertiliser such as 10:10:10 NPK during the growing season, fertilising the tree is better. Remove the dead leaves and branches to avoid diseases and insect infestation.

Uses

The rubber plant (Ficus elastica) is attractive. In addition to that, there are several benefits which this plant can provide you.

  • Air purifiers: Rubber plants can absorb and convert airborne chemicals into harmless ones. It increases the breathable oxygen and eliminates microbes from the air.
  • Air Cleaning: Due to the large surface area of the rubber leaves, they absorb air-containing pollutants and chemicals.
  • Inexpensive: The rubber plant is not expensive. You can easily afford and manage it.
  • Anti-Bacterial: Studies showed that about 1800 kinds of bacteria are present in the air. The rubber plant can reduce bacteria from the air up to 50%.
  • Waxy colourful foliage: You can decorate your garden with these eye-catching plants. Their leaves are waxy and slippery to touch.

    2) Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)

Ficus Benjamina, commonly known as Weeping fig, is a native species to tropical Southeast Asia which is generally grown indoors, but I can grow up to 60 feet tall and 60 to 70 feet wide when grown outdoors. The dense, rounded canopy and elegantly drooping branches of weeping fig made it relatively famous as a landscape tree.

Ficus benjamina

Ficus benjamina as an indoor plant is great for interior decoration.

 

The thick, shiny, two to five-inch long, evergreen leaves kindly cover the long branches, and the small figs ultimately turn a deep red. Branches will weep towards the ground, making a canopy so thick that nothing rows below it.

Caring of Ficus Benjamina

Weeping fig needs full sunlight and fast-draining, productive and loamy soil. With the proper attention, these evergreen trees will flourish outdoors. When the 1-2 inch of the topsoil becomes dry, then water is necessary for this tree. Keep the soil equally humid, avoiding dryness but never damp. Fertilise the tree once in the growing season with 10:10:10 NPK slow-release fertiliser. Pull the weeds growing around the tree and eliminate any dead plant material on the ground beneath the tree’s canopy. Prune the weeping fig each year in the late winter just past to when vigorous, fast-growth starts. Checked the leaves consistently for whiteflies, brown to white scale, green aphids, etc. Spray infestation with insecticidal soap or neem oil to eliminate pests.

Uses for Ficus Benjamina

  • Weeping fig contains some bioactive substances such as flavonoids, vitamin A and C, sugars, and enzymes which show anti-microbial, anti-pyretic, and anti-dysentery properties.
  • This tree is an air purifier and particularly filtering formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene.
  • Indigenous communities use the extract of weeping fig leaves and fruits to treat respiratory and skin diseases.
  • It is also used for anti-inflammatory, vomiting, piles, malaria, and cancer treatment.
  • Weeping fig is inexpensive and easy to take care of it.

3) Climbing Fig (Ficus pumila)

Ficus pumila, usually known as climbing fig or creeping fig, is a general vigorous, fast-growing evergreen ground and wall cover vine that can climb up to 20 feet or more when grown outdoors. The presence of dense, fast-growing small dark green and overlying leaves on fat stems makes the climbing fig a preferred vine to grow on the walls, where it gives to a delicate shape in its early growth stages.

Climbing Fig Glen Iris

A Climbing Fig (Ficus pumila) growing on a brick wall in Glen Iris.

Climbing figs can also be grown as a ground cover growing to around 50mm high. It is later developing larger leaves and woody growth. Creeping fig developed as a ground cover needs consistent pruning along the ends to keep it well-ordered and within the boundaries.

Caring for Ficus pumila

The partial shade or sun is suitable for Ficus pumila to grow outdoors. Full sunlight or complete shade is not always the best choice for this plant. A few months are required for the newly planted Ficus pumila to establish before sending out vigorous shoots. Young growth can cover a wall in two to three years. Ficus pumila does not need frequent water during the cold season. During summer, it should be watered regularly. The main trick is to avoid over-watering. Climbing fig will latch onto a vertical surface with tiny tendrils and be trained by pruning to stay flat. Two or three times a year, clip away new layers to encourage ore growth and prevent leaves from dark green colour.

Uses for Ficus pumila

With the addition of ornamental uses, Ficus pumila has the following medicinal benefits.

  • The frit of Ficus pumila is used for the production of jams and jellies.
  • Their latex has anthelmintic (the group of anti-parasites that expel parasites worms from the body) properties.
  • Stems and leaves are used in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic and to treat fever.
  • Leaves are used in Japan in beverages to treat diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • A decoction of fruit, stem, and leaves is used to treat joint pain due to arthritis.
  • Roots used to treat bladder problems and persuade urination.

4) Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophyla)

Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) is one of Australia’s most widely planted natives, growing naturally in coastal New South Wales and southern Queensland. Moreton bay fig is a huge extensive spreading, broad crowned evergreen tree growing to a height of 10-15 metres and a similar canopy spread.

Moreton Bay fig

The inclined roots of the Ficus Macrophylla create a dramatic garden feature when lit with garden uplighting.

The trunks are frequently strengthened, and the roots incline to grow along the surface. In moist or humid conditions, aerial roots form. The leaves, the tree’s main feature, are 15-25 cm long by 5-10 cm wide and dark silky green above and lighter and rusty coloured below.

Ficus macrophylla Morton Bay Fig

Ficus macrophylla Morton Bay Fig in Royal Park Melbourne.

 

Caring of Ficus macropyla

Although it is quite easy to care for and is generally resistant to numerous pests and diseases, it does not mean that we can leave it without any care at all. Ficus macrophylla develops in good condition. You will require well-drained, moist soil and in an area where there is plenty of natural light. It has a huge root system; therefore, it is necessary to have a plane for big space where it will be located. It does not need too much watering since it is a drought-resistant plant. So it is perfect for those places where rain is not very frequent.

Uses for Ficus macropyla

  • The Moreton Bay fig plant has been extensively used in public parks and big lawns in frost-free areas.

5) The Common Fig (Ficus carica)

Ficus carica, the common fig, is a rapidly growing tree spread by both seeds and cuttings. It is known to be invasive to Australia. It has been cultivated since ancient times and is now widely grown worldwide, both for its fruit and ornamental plants.

Ficus carica

Ficus carica, the common fig, is a rapidly growing tree spread by both seeds and cuttings.

This fig plant is a small deciduous tree or large shrub growing up to 7-10 metres tall. The leaves of this plant have five deep lobes. The fruit is tear-shaped, having green skin which turns purple or brown when ripened. The fruit is sweet soft flesh containing numerous crunchy seeds.

The Common Fig

The leaves of The Common Fig have five deep lobes. The fruit is tear-shaped, having green skin which turns purple or brown when ripened. The fruit is sweet soft flesh containing numerous crunchy seeds.

 

Caring for the carica

A warm, temperate region is favourable for Ficus carica. Porous soil having good drainage properties is suitable for this plant. A minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight is required for this plant to flourish. The dry season, as well as the cold season, is also suitable. A young tree can die in chilly temperatures. The requirement of water can be completed with rainwater or underground water. However, do watering if you notice the signs of drought stress. The water requirement is dependant on weather and soil nutrients. The tree requires regular pruning but only during the first years. Ideally, it would be best if you pruned it before the spring blossoms. Once the tree is established, avoid pruning it.

Uses for carica

Some of the important uses of fig (Ficus carcia) are given below.

  • Fruits are a great source of phosphorus, iron, calcium, and fibre (when dry)
  • Studies showed that fig fruit is used worldwide to treat several diseases such as gastric problems, cancer, and inflammation.
  • Ficus carica represents an important source of biochemically active compounds, which are practically used to treat and prevent various ailments like anaemia, cancer, diabetes, liver diseases, paralysis, skin diseases, and ulcers.
  • Fig fruit can be used as the main ingredient for fresh smoothies.

 

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References and more reading about Ficus

Fig Wasps – The Australian Museum