Ficus show lots of natural variations when grown from seed. Leaf shape, leaf size, bark color, vigor etc. can vary greatly from one seedling to the next. This can even occur with seed harvested from the same mother tree.
Ficus virens with a rounder leaf form
Some of the leaves are quite round
The same tree to show its branch structure after defoliation
Here is one of many Ficus virens that I have grown from seed. This individual has a rounder leaf than the normal virens. Its other characteristics are pretty typical for Ficus virens but if one were to just use the leaf shape as a major factor in the identification it might just lead you astray. This is one of the most frustrating features of Ficus, their variability. While making our lives miserable by confusing our identification it is a useful trait for the species as it enables them to modify themselves and perhaps find an environmental niche to exploit.
Using fusion to improve a fig tree is a valuable technique. However, it is necessary to use genetically identical material or the fusion my show differences in bark, leaf, etc. that can detract from the uniformity and believability of the design.
In this case seedlings of Ficus virens while very young were fused to create a sprout style tree. On careful examination of the trunks it is clear that they are not identical in bark character.
Ficus virens in a clump style created by fusion of seedling trees
Note that these three trunks do not look identical because genetically they are not the same
Ficus virens with a nice thick lower trunk
There are several ways to thicken the trunk of a bonsai. One way is to take aerials that are near the trunk and pull them over to touch the trunk and hold them tightly in place. Over time the aerials will fuse to the trunk enlarging it, as well as creating improved surface rootage/nebari.
Three or four years ago the same Ficus has small aerial on either side of the trunk. They are pulled close to the trunk and held in position
Aerials are now fused to the base, increase the taper and thickeness of the lower trunk
Aerial roots are one of the most unique and wonderful features of figs. Aerial roots start out as small fine filaments from the trunk or branches and grow down to the soil. Once rooted into the soil they thicken and can become as thick or thicker than the trunk or branch from which they originated.
Growth of the aerial is faster than growth of the trunk. Designs utilizing aerials may need to be adjusted over time to compensate for the aerials growth.
Ficus virens with aerial on the left side of the trunk, 2016
The same aerial on the left side of the trunk, 2013.
Ficus virens has many common names; Red Balete in the Philippines, Lipstick Ficus in India and White Fig in Australia. Whatever it is called it is a huge tree growing in its native environment. It can stand alone as a single trunk tree or exist as a strangler fig with many aerials. The most famous trees of this species are the Cathedral fig and the Curtain fig in Australia.
The species can make excellent bonsai. Leaves reduce well in container culture. Some cultivars show very extensive red or bronze coloring on the new leaves. Unfortunately this lovely red color does not persist for long as it fades into a dark green as the leaves mature.
Ficus virens is not often available as plants in the US so all my trees are grown from seed. The following are all about 8 years old and beginning to show signs of becoming good bonsai. All the trees are under 10-12″ tall or about 30cm.
With some Ficus virens new leaves are quite red
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This bonsai was grown from seed and kept in a small container for its whole life. Development of a bonsai for size will occur most quickly in the ground or in a large container. Although growing in a large container or ground growing can develop large bonsai often the tree will need finer branching and detailing. This should happen once the bonsai is containerized and nearing its final size.
Slant style grown from seed, 2009
Showing some good branching, 2014
Now that the size and branching are nearing a reasonable point, leaf reduction and increasing branch density will be next on the list for development.
One of my favorite of the larger leaf figs is Ficus virens, commonly called the White or Spotted fig. Although the species has larger leaves that make creating small sized bonsai difficult, it can be done.
Ficus virens is quite suitable for larger bonsai. It has attractive leaves that in some cultivars can be quite red or bronze on the new foliage. Thailand growers have developed some that are very red. The red color in the leaves will persist for a week or two before turning to a deep, deep green color.
In the photos above you can see that the mature leaf color varies from seedling to seedling. Some show a fair amount of red or bronze-tinged foliage. These plants are all about 7-8 years old from seed.