Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ficus benjamina

Most people in Manhattan would recognize Ficus benjamina or Benjamin ficus (also called weeping ficus) as this specimen:

Symbolizing the better intentions of a would-be plants person, the Benjamin ficus is abandoned to the elements, left to survive or perish on its own. Normally they perish, unlike the mythic baby NYC alligators that are flushed down toilets when they become too big to feed.

Benjamin ficus is one of those paradoxical plants that can be produced en masse quite quickly and cheap, but sadly as soon as it leaves a greenhouse and takes up residency in a dry, drafty apartment, it gives up the ghost. They are temperamental, known to drop all their leaves after a modest change in sun orientation. Move the Benjamin ficus from a west facing window to a north one and gamble with its survival.

All of which makes these specimens, which grew like weeds in Puerto Rico, all the more amazing.

Ficus is a genus with over 850 species. They include the common fig, Ficus carica, most known for it's fruit and a key plant in any Mediterranean garden. They also include the Indian banyan tree and the rubber tree.

A telltale identifier for species of Ficus can be found when you break a leaf at the stem -- a milky, sticky substance will drip out. That is latex and it is harvested for rubber from Ficus elastica (below).

Figs also typically have the aerial roots you see in these photos, designed to pull moisture out of the humid tropical rain forest air. This opportunistic growth actually provides Benjamin ficus with the status of hemi-epiphyte. That means this plant spends half its life (roughly) rooted in soil and half its life living entirely off the aerial roots. True epiphytes (like many orchids, or Spanish moss) survive without ever setting roots on solid ground.


suzieseashell said...

You answered my questions almost as soon as they came to me. It is like magic.

Good posting.

Invertir en oro said...

Wow! great blog. I know you went surfing one past New Years Day, so this is sans wet suit, san boots, gloves hat and so on. Congrats.