Ficus Bonsai Trees

Ficus bonsai trees are members of the large Moraceae family of plants.  With over 1,500 species, the family is so diverse they can be creeping vines, shrubs or huge forest trees.  These beautiful trees are considered exotic by many plant collectors.  They are often chosen as specimens in tropical conservatories.  

Features these collectors find attractive are also advantageous to those creating miniature versions of this tropical tree. There are many reasons they make good bonsai.  

Favorable Characteristics

Features others find attractive are also advantageous to those creating miniature versions of this tropical tree. There are many reasons Ficus make good bonsai.  

  • Spreading Roots - Mature fig trees have roots that ‘hug’ the ground, often spreading long distances from the main trunk. 
Ficus bonsai trees spread roots

Figs manage to thrive in a variety of unique conditions, and easily adapt to bonsai pots and slabs.  Shallow containers actually encourage the roots to spread as they can not go deep.  As the roots spread the trunk also spreads.

The Japanese word for this feature is nebari.

  • Interesting, Heavy Trunks - Most Ficus species evolve huge trunks in nature. Some are straight, some curved, others fluted. 
    Some species have light colored smooth bark, others are textured and some more colorful. One that has especially beautiful bark with white striations is the Ficus Golden Gate.
  • Fast Growth - In their native habitats, these trees grow quickly. Sidewalks, fences, and walls have been destroyed.
Temple in India enveloped by old Banyan Tree

Deserted homes have been swallowed up by their rampant growth. Ancient temples have been found completely covered by the invasive roots.

On the good side of this fast growth feature, you can develop quality Ficus bonsai trees in a matter of two or three years.

  • Small Leaves - Not all fig trees have small leaves. Some are twelve inches or more across. Although leaf reduction is possible through defoliation, it is an ongoing project.
Ficus Burt d. by Steve Moore

The small leaf Ficus burt davii shown here grows in Indiana and spends its winters indoors. 

Many other types of Ficus bonsai trees have small leaves and most make excellent bonsai choices.  

Why not try some of the best small leaf figs?  Ficus benjamina variations, Ficus microphylla and Ficus nerifolia are just a few.

  • Directional Pruning - A close look at a Ficus branch will show how the leaves are simple and alternating in their growth pattern. Because of their rapid growth, this branch structure is ideal for directional pruning.
  • Flowers? - Yes, figs do have flowers. 

However, despite the invalid pictures shown on the internet, it's unlikely you will ever see them.

They are strangely located within the fig. The figs are fertilized by certain wasps.

Curious about all this?  There is a greatly detailed description on the Backyard Nature site.

  • Fruit - (Technically not fruit in the true botanical sense.)  Small and often colorful, figs grow on short stems, without stems and also in clusters depending upon the species.

Some figs actually grow directly off the trunk and branches. (Similar to jaboticaba, Myciaria cauliflora.)

Fig colors vary from species to species.

F. benghalensis - commonly called the banyan tree - has cherry red figs when ripe.  Unfortunately, this tree also has very large leaves, which makes it difficult for bonsai.

F. altissima which resembles the banyan in every other way has bright yellow fruit. 

The "fruit" on tropical figs are not considered desirable for human consumption but are very popular with birds and monkeys.

Other figs have brown or reddish brown fruit, still others are vibrant orange.

In Ficus bonsai trees, the fruit is always to scale. On small trees they may look like cherries or apples, while on larger plants they resemble berries.

  • Aerial roots - Some Ficus bonsai trees drop aerial roots from lateral branches just as they do in nature.
Aerial roots can be created on some Ficus bonsai treesOld banyan tree - Miami, FL

Also known as ‘prop’ roots or buttress roots, they often give extra support to massive spreading "arms" of the banyan tree.  Some species grow aerial roots primarily off the trunk, still others have none.

Occasionally, when the original trunk dies, aerial roots keep the tree alive.  In the Calcutta Botanical Garden in India, one huge fig tree occupies over three acres; the aerial roots number beyond 3,000.  Aerial roots on bonsai are valued because they help these trees resemble old banyans.

An Unfavorable Attribute

One thing you may consider negative, is the sticky latex produced by these trees.  On the Bonsai Tips page is a resolution for preventing some of the undesirable results.

Where to Go From Here -
More About Ficus Bonsai Trees

More about Ficus as bonsai

Growing bonsai indoors information

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