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.
To learn more about growing figs buy the definitive reference work on Ficus for bonsai. The book is a softcover, 8 by 10 inch volume, with 144 color pages, containing detailed information for the beginner as well as the advanced hobbyist. Click here for more information
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.
These are two seed grown Ficus virens, Lipstick fig. Each plant shows some variation in its leaves, bark, growth pattern etc. These characteristics can be influenced by the growth environment. In the case of these two plants the newly emerged leaves are red in color. This color changes to a deep green after a week or two.
Since the two trees are grown in identical soil, identical lighting and identical fertilization the variation in the red color is due to genetics. One consistently has darker red new leaves. I would love to find a clone that has red leaves that remain red! That would be a great addition to the bonsai community.
The virens on the left has bronze colored new leaves while the one on the right has deep, dark red new leaves. Genetics of each is determining this factor.
Bonsai creation is not an instant or immediate process. Sometimes it just takes some time to evolve a suitable design. In this case a seed grown Ficus virens was a very un-attractive youngster. With a bit of patience and the passage of 5 years the tree is beginning to be an enjoyable bonsai. Given another 5 years it may even become outstanding.
Ficus virens 2017
Same tree 2012
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
Very often I have some trees that just seem to be a puzzle. I can’t quite figure out what design might work for the tree. I usually put these on the bottom shelf and just let them grow and wait for a burst of inspiration. Perhaps the tree will speak to me and I can listen to it and style and train it to become a wonderful bonsai.
But, sometimes the tree isn’t speaking or I am not listening. Not all bonsai creations will be created “instantly”. Sometime the bonsai will evolve after the tree or the designer mature.
Ficus virens which has been allowed to grow wild
No brilliant ideas so I take the tree back to the best basic structure and allow it to grow
Another Ficus virens that has not worked for me and it was allowed to grow wild
With no inspiration, I just cut it back to the best trunk line that I could think of. Time and growth may show me a way in the future.
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.
Seed grown and kept close together these trees are now fused at the base. I think this might be called a clump style.
Ficus virens is the species but in some areas it is called infectoria.
Leaves removed to show the nice branch structure that is developing.
2009, Several seedlings have fused together by being kept in a small container
2016, defoliated to show the nice branching that is developing
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
The definitive reference work on Ficus
for bonsai. The book is a softcover, 8 by 10 inch volume, with 144 color pages, containing detailed information for the beginner as well as the advanced hobbyist. Click here for more information
Multiple trunks fused together from separate seedlings
Ficus infectoria is an invalid name, according to the botanists, and should technically be called Ficus virens. This material shows a coarser grower than some of my other virens. It seems to be quite happy in container culture with no special needs.
This bonsai is actually 3 or 4 root fused trees that were grown from seed. The seedlings were never separated to their own containers so that over time the root and bases fused to form one tree.
Defoliated once or twice yearly to improve branching, produce smaller leaves and to allow visualization of the branches
As the trees grew they naturally fused to each other so that now this is one root connected tree.