You may know the Ficus Elastica by another name- the rubber plant. Native to South and South East Asia, its natural habitat is a far cry from our homes in colder climes. During the 70s in the UK and US, the Rubber Plant became hugely popular indoors for its large, oval, structural leaves and its propensity to stay completely fine, even if its was underwatered or the room was poorly lit. Yes, it can survive a little bit of neglect, but we want to focus on how to get your Ficus to thrive. We've picked the 'Belize' variety for this purely to show off a particular plant that won't remind you of your Grandparent's house, as a lot of us want to steer clear of the fuddy-duddy decor that our elders adopted, even though mid-century interiors are all the rage (again).
Unlike the classic deep green of the plant you might be familiar with, the Belize has a striking difference, and that's in its colouration. With an almost camouflage-like leaf pattern, in bold greens, pinks and ivories, this plant is an easy but rewarding addition to your home.
At hortus we think that the best way to know how to care for a houseplant, is to emulate its natural environment, as they aren't supposed to live in our homes, really. So lets dig in a little to where this plant originated, and how it lives when its in the wild. The heat but constant cover of the canopy offered by the landscape in its home of South East Asia, means your plant will enjoy a draft-less environment, with a bright, but indirect light. Imagine them growing under the larger trees, with a huge amount of sunlight filtering through the foliage above. A position in your room that's not receiving beating sun rays all day is ideal for your Ficus, though we know that's hard to imagine in the UK
The Ficus is a strong plant, and can tolerate, even in the wild, periods of drought, but that doesn't mean it needs no water. If you image the climes its used to, when it rains, it pours. A lot of the year round, its dry, but the moisture from the other plants around and from the ground are retained by the heavy rainfall experienced in the rainy seasons. The large canopy of trees above the Ficus will stop the ground from drying out completely, until the next rainfall, and if you consider that your plant doesn't have that protection from above, or a large root system and soil below for it to dig deep into, then you do need to water your plant reasonably regularly. You should also consider that your house is artificially heated, which causes soil to dry out far quicker than it would elsewhere.
The strength of the Ficus Elastica is truly a marvel. A thick stem can support multiple huge, heavy leaves, but at home we often need to prop them up with poles to prevent them from keeling over. That's partly why they're often styled in trios, with three plants in the same pot, for added impact. In their natural habitat they grow into substantial trees, with the stems getting thicker into trunks, and aerial roots forming anchors that feed back into the ground for support. An aerial root is a root that grows on a part of the stem that is not under the cover of soil, and in some regions these are used to form bridges. The Khasi people, amongst others, are an ethnic group in North Eastern India, who have been training these plants to form bridges for eons. By twisting the smaller roots to start with, and training them over the rivers and streams of the sub-tropical landscape, they form bridges that are constantly in use by the inhabitants. The smaller roots that the Khasi help along, become grafted to older roots, in a process known as Inosculation, which further strengthens the bonds of the bridge. If the Ficus is strong enough to hold the weight of humans, you can surely help it to become the strongest it can possibly be in your home!
As we're talking here about how to take care of your Ficus at home, not how to train it to form a structure in your back garden, we should give you some practical advice. We advise that your plant needs a nicely aerated soil, and a pot that lets its roots breathe. You can add some bark or perlite to a multi-purpose compost to achieve a soil that will drain well, instead of buying a soil that might be sold specifically for Ficus', as long as the soil has good drainage so the roots don't rot or get waterlogged, it'll be just fine.
When it comes to the best pot for your plant, we'd always recommend potting straight into an unsealed terracotta pot, with a drainage hole. At hortus we stock a range of pots for indoor and outdoor use, and a Bergs Potter pot would serve your plant well, but there are lots of options out there to suit all interiors. If you don't want to do down the terracotta route indoors, we recommend keeping it in its nursery pot (the plastic pot it comes in) and placing it in a glazed pot of your choice. As long as you have enough wiggle room to take the nursery pot out for a water, the choice is yours. As a Ficus has one stem that grows upwards of the soil, we always recommend upsizing the decorative slightly, as the plant will have little foliage to cover the sometimes unsightly look of the soil or the nursery pot- a bigger pot will hide a bit of that, and allow the plant to be the centre of attention.
If you like the sound of this plant for your home, why not pop into our store, where we have an array of houseplants on offer, and sometimes you might spy a Belize or two in our indoor jungle.