No-Fuss Ficus

Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) has long been a popular choice for folks who want a small-tree-sized houseplant, but it can be a bit temperamental about changes in light levels and soil moisture, often resulting in sudden, extensive leaf drop.

For a large houseplant that’s more adaptable to change (or neglect!), try banana-leaf fig. This tropical tree can be grown with single or multiple stems (you can even find them with braided stems) and has a somewhat open, irregular crown.

It has long, narrow, leathery dark green leaves that droop gracefully from the branches. Banana-leaf fig will bring an exotic touch of the tropics to your home, no matter where you live.

Common name: Banana-leaf fig, saber fig
Botanical name: Ficus maclellandii
Plant type: Tropical small tree grown as a houseplant
Zones: 11 or warmer outdoors; anywhere as a houseplant
Height: 8 to 12 feet indoors
Family: Moraceae

Growing conditions
Sun: Bright filtered light indoors
Soil: Well-drained soilless potting mix
Moisture: Slightly moist to slightly dry; avoid overwatering.

Care
Mulch: 1 inch of organic mulch such as wood chips
Pruning: Prune as needed for form.
Fertilizer: Apply diluted soluble fertilizer every other month from spring to fall, but none in winter.

Propagation
• Cuttings
• Layering

Pests and diseases
• No serious problems.

Cultivars
• ‘Alii’ is a common variety that is similar to the species.
• ‘Alii Variegata’ has green and gold variegated foliage.
• ‘Amstel King’ is an improved form with somewhat larger leaves.

Garden notes
• In the summer, banana-leaf fig can be moved outdoors to a shaded location, but move it back indoors when night temperatures start dropping below 50.
• Wipe leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust, especially in the winter.
• As with many figs, banana-leaf fig contains sticky white latex that can cause irritation in some people.Avoid getting it on your skin when you prune.

All in the family
• Banana-leaf fig is a member of the fig family (Moraceae), a large group of mostly tropical trees, shrubs and vines.  
• There are some fig family members that are hardy in temperate zones, including some fruiting figs (Ficus carica is one), mulberries (Morus spp.) and Osage orange (Maclura pomifera).

Where to buy
• Logee’s Greenhouses, logees.com
• Stokes Tropicals, stokestropicals.plants.com