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Ficus benjamina, or Weeping Fig, has long been popular as the indoor “shade tree.” This is the only indoor plant that can give you the tree look, and despite its habit of shedding leaves when it is relocated, it is an easy houseplant to maintain if it is given adequate light. The weeping fig grows in full sun in the tropics, where it becomes a huge shade tree with shiny green leaves and wild, twisting aerial roots flowing from branches to ground, completely surrounding the trunk. As a houseplant, however, its size and shape are easily controlled by pruning. There are many F. benjamina cultivars, including a few that are prized as bonsai subjects, such as F. exotica, F. ‘Toolittle,’ and F. ‘Kiki.’ Another pretty cultivar is F. ‘Starlite,’ with green and white variegated leaves.
This attractive indoor fig variety differs from the more commonly seen Weeping Fig. It has long, drooping leaves, resembling those of a peach tree. The Alii is not as prone to leaf drop as the F. benjamina, but it still does best in very bright indirect light or in direct morning or late afternoon sun.
Ficus maclellandii ‘Alii’ is sensitive to drafts so keep it away from air conditioning or heat vents. It is prunable to control size and shape. It is prettiest when grown as a standard with a single or braided trunk. The cultivar ‘Amstel King’ has a fatter leaf than the Alii, but care is the same.
The Ficus lyrata, Fiddle-leaf fig, is a wonderful, showy houseplant for very bright light. It performs best with direct sun in the morning or in the late afternoon. The common name refers to the large, violin-shaped glossy leathery leaves that can be as long as 18” and as wide as 12”. These trees can get big, but you can prune both for shape and size. Allow the soil to dry slightly between thorough waterings, and provide good drainage. Apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer four or five times a year for this slower-growing plant. Unlike the Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), the Fiddle-leaf does not go through a rapid heavy leaf drop when relocated. However, if you get off on your watering, the smaller number of big dramatic leaves causes any damage to stand out like a sore thumb. Browning lower leaves indicates that the soil is getting too dry, while over-watering damages the newer growth first.