Category Archives: identification

Leaves vary a lot

One interesting thing to know is that Ficus leaves can vary greatly. They can vary in size, shape, texture, color etc. They even can vary on the same plant or whether the plant is growing strongly or just slowly.

Growing figs from seed reveals also that almost every seedling shows some subtle or not so subtle variations. The picture below shows two leaves grown from a Thailand seed source and the other from an Australian source. They are both the same species, Ficus virens, Lipstick fig, Red Balete, Spotted fig are all common local names for them.

Ficus virens, left is Thailand form, right is Australian form

The two leaves really do not look similar and yet they are the same species! Makes me scratch my head trying to ID figs from across the world by just looking at the leaf. For a true identification the syconia or figs need to be seen. Unfortunately, we seldom see figs on our bonsai.


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Ficus with rounder leaves

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.

Identifying a Ficus by using the leaves

Fig leaves are very variable from species to species. This is helpful in trying to identify a fig as belonging to a certain species. The problem is that the leaves on even a single plant can show great variation depending upon cultural conditions of light, moisture, growth in a container, wind, etc.

As an example the shot below shows several leaves removed from a single Ficus plant. The variability would make an attemp at a scientific identification very difficult. Many factors must be used to help in correctly identifying a fig. These include the leaf, bark, syconia, stipules etc.

Figs are wonderful plants to use for bonsai but they can infuriating to correctly identify without figs/syconia.

Ficus leaves removed from one plant showing the highly variable shape and character of the leaves

Ficus leaves removed from one plant showing the highly variable shape and character of the leaves