Weeping Fig, The Leaves of Plant
Weeping Fig, The Leaves of Plant

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Description & Uses

The Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) is this time the honorary strangler invited by "Kalliergeia".

A two-faced strangler, since as an indoor plant, shows only his benevolent and slightly weeping ornamental side, and therefore can deceive the unsuspecting plant lover about his true temperament, while in contrast into his physical condition, shows its other side, as it unfolds all the wild and aggressive surviving talents that generally characterize its clan – that is, the genus Ficus – and consist in the choking of those trees, on which as a hemi-epiphyte happens to take its first steps in life.

But let us not prejudice the reader.

Let him get to know this world-wide ornamental strangler better – but just in case he has with him a repeating rifle of capable caliber or even a simple bazooka.

Benjamin’s Fig tree in a park with a particularly impressive habit.

Ficus benjamina Tree in Molokai Island - © Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org
Ficus benjamina Tree in Molokai Island - © Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org
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Weeping Fig Origin

Ficus benjamina (Weeping Fig) - Map of Origin
Ficus benjamina (Weeping Fig) - Map of Origin

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Brief Description

Family: Moraceae

Genus: Ficus

Scientific Name: Ficus benjamina L.

Common Names: Weeping Fig, Weeping Chinese Banyan, Java Laurel, Java Willow, Java Tree, Beringin, Benjamin Tree, Small-Leaved Fig, Small-Leaved Rubber Plant, Benjamin’s Fig, Malayan Banyan, Java Fig, Tropical Laurel, Weeping Laurel

General Characteristics

Leaf Persistence

Evergreen

Form

Tree of Round Canopy Shape

Texture

Fine

Growth Rate

Fast / Indoors: Moderate

Flowering Period (Tropics)

October – January

Fruiting Period

October – January

Height

15-30 m (50-100 ft) Ind/rs: 0.90-3 m (3-10 ft)

Diameter

18-30 m (60-100 ft) Ind/rs: 0.90-3 m (3-10 ft)

Shapes and Colors

Leaves Shape

Ovate

Foliage Colour

Green

Autumn Foliage Colour

Green

Flowers Shape

Syconium

Flowers Colour

Green

Fruit

Fig – Achene

Plantation

Soil Type: Well-drained, sand, loam, clay

Exposure: Sun, Half-Shade, Shade

Soil pH: 5.5-8.1

Watering: Moderate

Hardiness: −1.1 °C (30 °F – USDA Hardiness zone 10b)

Uses

Specimen, urban planting, highway median, bonsai, pots and containers indoor and outdoor

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Ficus benjamina Close-up to Leaves - © Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org
Ficus benjamina Close-up to Leaves - © Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Etymology

Etymology of the Genus Name

With great joy and unhypocritical enthusiasm, we refer the tireless reader of "Kalliergeia" to Ficus lyrata, to find there what does not exist here and is nothing more than the etymology of the word of the genus Ficus.

Etymology of the Species Name

The name of the genus benjamina implies a strong dose of surrealism, because it refers to a resin, to the Benzoin resin, which is not contained in the tree.

On the other hand, Benzoin resin or, to be more precise, balsamic Benzoin, ie the resinous exudate or sap of Benzoin, has as its sole source the bark of various species of trees in the Styrax genus, and especially of the species Styrax benzoin – while even in them the chemical compound Benzoin is absent, although it is prepared in the laboratory with the contribution of Benzoin resin.

It could therefore be said that while the name benjamina is a shining example of scientific surrealism, it is also a tangible example of completely failed botanical naming – an example of what not to do.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Origin & Life Span

Origin

The cradle of Weeping Fig is located in a relatively large area of the planet, which includes part of Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Specifically, the birthplace of the plant are the tropics of India, Malaysia, the Peninsular Malaysia (Southern Thailand, Myanmar), the Philippines, Australia (Northern Australia, Queensland), and the Solomon Islands.

It grows there in primitive or disturbed tropical and wet mixed forests, as well as in those where species belonging to the family Dipterocarpaceae predominate (mixed dipterocarp forests).

The natural habitats of the tree vary, as its populations can be found in various environments, from inaccessible areas of the heart of forests to near villages, and from rocky areas to riparian rivers and streams, and in various soil types with sandy up to limestone soils.

In terms of altitude, the tree is found from sea level up to 1400 m.

Life Span

The Weeping Fig lives from 40 to 150 years, a performance quite satisfactory for any of the plant lovers who invest in its longevity – of course we do not know the opinion of the tree itself on the issue.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Landscape Attributes

The Ficus benjamina is a large and fast growth rate evergreen tree, which when grown in nature reaches a height of 30 m, while in cultivation about 20 m.

It has a very strong root system, the tree usually consists of a single trunk, its branches and shoots are drooping (semi-hanging), and its crown is symmetrical, spherical – hemispherical, which becomes wider with age, having a rather irregular outline, and dense foliage of fine texture.

As an indoor plant, it has a bushy or small tree habit, it is of a formalistic style, while its dimensions are significantly smaller, since it reaches up to 3 m in height and about 1 in diameter.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Weeping Fig Fruits & Leaves
Weeping Fig Fruits & Leaves

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Botanical Description

Roots

The Weeping Fig has two types of roots:

  • The typical underground of plants
  • And the above ground

The above ground is composed of aerial roots, which are, like any epiphytic, adventitious.

These roots are the first that Benjamin’s Fig grows, as it usually grows on the branches of other trees.

Having a positive geotropism (gravitropism) they are directed towards the soil, and when they get there they form quite quickly thicker underground roots, which supply the plant with nutrients, giving it a nutritional advantage over its host.

At the same time, the aerial parts of the roots, tighten more and more the trunk of the host, preventing the trunk from expanding, while with the development of their own foliage, they literally cover the foliage of the other.

In the end, the summoned phyto-coroner will state that the host did not die of heartbreak, but of choking – as a result of his strangulation by Benjamin’s Fig.

Trunk

Benjamin’s Fig trunk has a diameter between 30 and 60 cm, calculated at about 1 m from the ground. It is covered by bark, which is thin and smooth, of gray or light-gray colour.

Branches & Twigs

The main branches of the tree have a gray color, and the ability to produce aerial roots, which can be transformed into new trunks.

The branchlets are pendulous and gray in color, while the young twigs are smooth, thin, 0.9 to 2.4 mm in diameter, with solid internodes and initially reddish-brown in color, which over time as they become woody becomes dark-brown.

Leaves

The leaves are simple, leathery, intensely green, their shape is mainly ovate but often lanceolate or broad – elliptic, and their dimensions range between 3.6 and 12.5 cm in length, and 1.5 to 6 cm in width.

They are arranged alternately on the shoots, with which they are connected by a petiole 5 to 30 mm long and 0.7 to 1.5 mm in diameter, which is adaxially sulcate and has a permanent skin.

The base of the lamina is rounded to broad cuneate shaped and sometimes cordate, the margins are entire, while the apex is relatively short and acuminate. The cystoliths are visible on the adaxial surface of the blade as raised dots, and the waxy glands are either absent or present at the base of the midvein, at the junction with petiole.

On either side of the midvein are 8 to 10 almost regularlly spaced secondary nerves, which are anastomosed near the margins, while the tertiary nerves are also visible.

The stipules are 2, amplexicaul, caducous, membranous, and glabrous, lanceolate and 8 to 20 mm long.

Flowers

The syconiums or figs (hypanthodia) are a special form of inflorescence and not the botanical fruit of the tree.

Inside them are bearing the flowers (florets), which are of 3 types, including on the one hand the males and on the other the fertile females and the sterile females (or galls) – all hairless.

The male florets are few in number, are carried on a short peduncle, have a stamen on a relatively long filament, and are surrounded by a three-lobed or four-lobed calyx, with broadly ovate lobes.

The female florets are sessile, they have a short and curved style (lateral) with an enlarged stigma, and they are surrounded by a three-lobed calyx, with shortly spatulate lobes.

The gall florets are numerous, sometimes they have a peduncle and sometimes they do not, they have a short and curved style (lateral), and they are surrounded by a three-lobed, four-lobed and / or five-lobed calyx, with narrowly spatulate lobes.

Pollination

The obligate pollinator of Ficus benjamina is the fig wasp species Eupristina koningsbergeri.

Fruit

The syconia, which are joined directly to the to the hypanthium, grow in the axils of the leaves, singly or more usually in pairs.

They have a spherical-ovoid or elliptic shape, sometimes they are  pear-shaped, and their color is initially green and then purple, yellow, red, or dark red when ripe, with indistinguishable protruding rounded white spots on the surface.

Their size varies, having dimensions of 0.7 to 1 cm width and 0.8 to 1.5 cm length.

Also, the syconia enclose 2 to 3 unequal persistent bracts at the base, 0.5-1.5 mm wide which are crescentric and hairless, while the umbonate ostiole area is enclosed by another 3 minutes, flat and smooth imbricate bracts, 1.5 to 2 mm wide.

Inside the figs are the real botanical fruits, the achenes, which have an ovoid-reniform shape, while they are shorter than the persistent style.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Climate and Soil

The Benjamin’s Fig grows in a wide range of climates and in various soil environments. In relation to the climatic types the following are mentioned:

  • Af – Tropical rainforest climate
  • Am – Tropical monsoon climate
  • Aw – Tropical wet and dry savanna climate
  • Cf – Warm temperate climate, wet all year
  • Cs – Warm temperate climate with dry summer
  • Cw – Warm temperate climate with dry winter

(Köppen–Geiger Climate Classification System)

Temperature

The Weeping Fig adapts to a large temperature range. However, its Achilles heel is the low temperatures since its lower tolerance limit is only -1.1 °C.

Slightly below this minimum value it is possible, if late frost occurs, to damage the tree, manifested by injury or necrosis of the shoots and intense defoliation.

It will recover, of course, but in very cold winters and hard frosts, it is in danger even with all tree necrosis.

With the high and very high temperatures it does not face the slightest problem, since in its natural habitats it copes with the warmest month of the year, mean maximum temperature ranging from 28 up to 49 °C.

Soil and pH

As with high temperatures, so with soil types, the tree does not face the slightest problem as long as their drainage is excellent.

After all, besides its hemi-epiphytic behavior, it is also an excellent lithophytic plant, having the ability to take root even on a rock.

However, it thrives in fertile sandy loamy or loam sandy soils, which retain the necessary moisture and are from acidic to alkaline, ie with pH values from 5.5 to 8.1, but having as optimum those that are between 6 and 6.5.

Exposure

The tree, planted in the ground, withstands all kinds of exposure, from places full of sun to places that are fully shaded.

However, as an indoor plant, it is best to avoid direct exposure to sunlight and to place it where the light is diffused.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Pests & Diseases

Although a robust tree, Benjamin’s Fig also has its weaknesses, as it is susceptible to certain pests and pathogens. Of course, the whole plant will rarely be endangered by them, but it may pass a test as well as its fans.

Pests

Immediately below are recorded the most important pests of Benjamin’s Fig.

Various Insects
  • Euwallacea fornicatus Eichhoff sensu lato
  • Euwallacea kuroshio
  • Josephiella microcarpae (Banyan Leaf Gall Wasp)
  • Horidiplosis ficifolii (Eye-Spot Midge)
  • Megaplatypus mutatus
  • Opogona sacchari
  • Psacothea hilaris
  • Singhiella simplex (Ficus Whitefly)
  • Trilocha varians
Aphids
  • Toxoptera aurantii
  • Greenidea ficicola
Thrips
  • Gynaikothrips ficorum
  • Gynaikothrips garitacambroneroi
  • Gynaikothrips uzeli
  • Thrips palmi
Scales
  • Aonidiella citrina
  • Ceroplastes ceriferus
  • Ceroplastes floridensis
  • Ceroplastes rusci (Fig Wax Scale)
  • Chysomphalus pinnulifer
  • Icerya seychellarum (Seychelles Fluted Scale)
  • lschnaspis longirostris
  • Parasaissetia nigra
  • Paratachardina pseudolobata (Lobate Lac Scale)
  • Paratachardina silvestri
  • Fiorinia phantasma
Mealybags
  • Ripersiella hibisci
Acari
  • Eutetranychus orientalis
Nematodes
  • Aphelenchoides (Foliar Nematode)
  • Meloidogyne incognita
  • Meloidogyne javanica
  • Meloidogyne arenaria

By using the appropriate insecticides and acaricides, their treatment is from satisfactory to difficult, except for nematodes, which are very difficult to control.

Diseases

After the pests, the recording of the diseases follows.

Fungi
  • Glomerella colletotrichum (Anthracnose)
  • Phomopsis (Branch Dieback)
Bacteria
  • Xanthomonas campestris (Bacterial Leaf Spot)

By using the appropriate fungicides the treatment of the former is from satisfactory to difficult, while the bacterium of the plant is extremely difficult to control.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Toxicity & Allergenicity

Toxicity

The Ficus benjamina is a moderately toxic tree. All plant parts of the species contain the milky sap, the latex, which is composed of toxic substances such as furocoumarins, psoralens and the enzyme ficin (or ficain).

Ingestion of plant parts may cause gastrointestinal issues, while while skin contact with the latex may cause short-term skin irritation.

The plant is therefore toxic to pets (cats, dogs) and stabled (horses) – for free range (eg alligators) we have no idea.

Allergenicity

The Benjamin’s Fig performance as an indoor allergen is clearly superior to its toxicity, and that is why it is ranking, immediately after dust and pets, as the third most important allergen.

People who are sensitive to latex will experience allergic symptoms, which usually include rhinoconjunctivitis and allergic asthma, without excluding allergic anaphylactic shock, and therefore the plant should not adorn indoors where they live or work.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Varieties & Cultivars

As an extremely popular plant, dozens of varieties of Benjamin’s Fig are available. Most of them differ in size, such as the ‘Too Little’ variety that is particularly suitable for creating bonsai Figs, as well as in the shape or the colour of the leaves.

Benjamin's Fig Varieties

Some of the most important are the following:

  • Ficus benjamina ‘Danielle’
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Naomi’
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Exotica’
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Golden King’
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Starlight’
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Too Little’
  • Ficus benjamina ‘Variegata’

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses

Weeping Fig’s Impressive Trunk & Libs - © Luana Vargas, Desert Botanical Garden, Bugwood.org
Weeping Fig’s Impressive Trunk & Libs - © Luana Vargas, Desert Botanical Garden, Bugwood.org

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) - Use

The Weeping Fig belongs to that category of plants that were used by humans for practical, therapeutic, and relatively recently for ornamental purposes.

Immediately below we will try to present all these uses as concisely as possible – because someday we have to complete this article as well.

Craft & Industrial

Although Weeping Fig’s wood is not considered to be of high quality, it is nevertheless used in construction, for the creation of molds and temporary constructions, as well as in boxing, carpentry and furniture, for the production of fruit crates, small gomestic objects, as well as drawers.

The inner bark of the tree is also used to make good quality rope.

Ecological

In destroyed or degraded rainforests, Benjamin’s Fig is one of the main trees planted in them, acting as a pioneer species for their rapid restoration (as in Thailand, in reforestation projects).

Moreover, the tree itself, by producing fruit, feeds many birds (such as the pigeons Superb Fruit Dove (Ptilinopus superbus), Wompoo Fruit Dove (P. Magnificus), Pink-Spotted Fruit Dove (P. Perlatus), Ornate Fruit Dove (P. ornatus), Orange-Bellied Fruit Dove (P. Iozonus), Torresian Imperial Pigeon (Ducula spilorrhoa), and Purple-Tailed Imperial Pigeon (D. rufigaster) but also bats, and in general it could be said that atract seed-dispersing wildlife.

Ethnobotany

The origins of the ethnobotanical use of the tree are lost in the depths of the centuries. In order not to get lost, we will also briefly mention that:

  • The inner bark is used to make rope
  • The sap (latex) from the processing of the leaves acts as a natural insect repellent for fleas and bed bugs
  • Twigs, which are placed under the beds, generally act as insect repellents
  • Wood is used as fuel
  • Bark wrapped in grass, along with the banana inflorescence (Musa x paradisiaca) and dry rice seeds (Oryza sativa), is fed to cattle to minimize the risk of abortion.
  • Almost all herbal parts are used therapeutically for the treatment of rheumatism, liver diseases, headaches, as well as as wound healing.

Ornamental

The Weeping Fig is used as an indoor plant, as well as in the garden and in the landscape.

And while for the first form of exploitation we can not speak of misuse, except in terms of more or less aesthetics, for the second we are clearly entitled not only to refer to misuse but even destructive.

And this is not a figure of speech, but a fact that concerns a reality that insists on ignoring key features of the tree, such as in this case its most powerful underground root system.

Thus, without taking into account but also applying in practice the appropriate safety distance from buildings and public or private infrastructure, for the landscaping of urban centers and residential areas, mainly in tropics, Benjamin’s Fig is planted in order to quickly create tree lines, or shading areas next to buildings or near infrastructure.

The result is the partial or complete destruction (foundations, roads, sidewalks, irrigation and sewerage network) and the corresponding financial loss in terms of budgets and expenditures for their restoration or reconstruction.

Use as an Indoor Plant

Already one of the most popular indoor green plants thanks to its appearance and durability, it saw its reputation skyrocket after its inclusion in plants – air purifiers, the famous NASA research.

Indeed, Ficus benjamina is extremely effective in purifying airborne toxins (formaldehyde, xylene and toluene) while enriching the spaces with oxygen.

Of course, in order to carry out such a project, it is necessary to place at least 1 plant per 20 to 25 m².

Use in Garden and Landscape

In gardening and landscape architecture, the Weeping Fig is utilized:

  • As a pruned tree of special beauty, planted alone and at a distance of at least 15 m from buildings and infrastructure
  • In areas where irrigation water is not abundant
  • To create a formalistic hedge
  • In combination with other ornamental plants, such as Paperplants (Fatsia japonica), Swiss Cheese Plants (Monstera deliciosa), Dumbcanes (Dieffenbachia seguine) και Dwarf Umbrella Trees (Schefflera arboricola)

References

The References of another ultra-concisely article, bearing the completely original title Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) – Description & Uses, presented by Rakesh Chaurasia, the famous Indian master of Indian flute (bansuri), with the orchestral Raag Bhairavi – Dhun.

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