Hartley Magazine

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Image 2 - March 2017
Ficus benjamina

Okay I admit of all glasshouse and conservatory plants Ficus benjamina might be considered one of the less flamboyant. Indeed this is just a foliage plant, mind you what lovely clean glossy foliage and on such delightfully neat shrubs.

Tough and reliable benjaminas have long proved popular with gardeners and indoor decorators just because they are so bomb proof. Thus you see them in so many under cover situations where they stand on their own or act as a backdrop for showier specimens.

Coming originally from India and the Far East and introduced to Europe in 1757 these are one of the huge fig family with over 600 species which includes the well known fruit and the rubber plant. In fact benjaminas can bear fruits, small blood red berries, but these are not edible, and their flowers are effectively invisible. This does not matter one whit as it is for that clean dark foliage and strong outline they are so useful.

Now you could grow the species from seed but it is easier to layer one of the flexible stems rooting it into a pot of gritty compost. You can also take cuttings which will root given humid conditions and bottom heat. Or just buy a plant. Small ones are not expensive and as they grow so fast then large ones are often disposed of in classified ads for very little when they have become too big for their first home.

A heavy pot or container is best as it helps keep the shrub upright, even more so if you train it as a tree with a single stem as then it will get much taller. Likewise a soil based compost is best for the weight but benjaminas are not at all fussy as to compost and endur for years with only a little extra fertility added now and then. And they are fairly relaxed as to watering regimes as long as they’re neither waterlogged nor dried out completely. (Though do use rain water for washing them down as tap water can leave whitish marks on their leaves.) Benjaminas will even tolerate the dry air of a modern house, are seldom bothered by disease, and the only pests to watch for are red spider mites and scale. As I said, bomb proof.

If you like benjaminas you could look for variegated and golden forms and such as the Java fig F. b. Exotica which has longer curled leaves with a drip tip, and F. b. nuda from the Phillippines which has smaller leaves with yellowish berries.