Last Updated on August 31, 2022 by Plant Mom Care
Ficus microcarpa or ginseng ficus belongs in the fig Moraceae family. It’s indigenous to tropical Asia and Australia and is extensively cultivated for shade. Its Latin name “Ficus’ ‘ means “fig” and “microcarpa” means “tiny fruit”.
Its leaves are green, almost 2.5-3 inches long and its smooth bark is light-gray. It can grow to about 40 feet high outdoors and spreads widely by producing many aerial supportive roots when conditions are favorable in humid tropical and subtropical environments.
It produces small fig-like fruits almost 0.5 inches in size when growing outdoors but rarely does so indoors unless conditions are right. The fruit is green before ripening to black and red and is non-edible to but birds love to eat them.
Remarkably, the seeds of the fruits can only be fertile if pollinated by a specific wasp (Eupristina verticillata). If this wasp isn’t found in the area, the plant will still produce fruits but the seeds won’t germinate. This is good because the plant is considered to be invasive when it grows wild outdoors.
The largest specimen of this tree is called “Auntie Sarah’s Banyan” in Hawai’i. It is 110 feet tall and spreads to 250 feet with over 1,000 aerial trunks/roots another F. microcarpa can also be found in Hawai’i having the thickest trunk of 28 feet and a branch spread of 195 feet.
It’s easy to maintain but the roots tend to spread rapidly. It shouldn’t be planted near other trees or buildings as the roots can invade cracks, walls, buildings, and other masonry features. It has been found to tolerate some pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, lead, cadmium, and salt.
It is considered to be home to spirits such as Pontianak in Malaysia and is said to be associated with benevolent spirits and vital force or energy (“Qi”) in China. Some fig trees are connected with the sacred places of Taoists and Buddhists in Singapore.
While it can grow so big outdoors, it is usually cultivated as an indoor ornamental plant and is popular with Bonsai enthusiasts.
Ginseng Ficus Light Requirements
This plant grows well in either indirect or direct sunlight, although direct sun in the afternoons can scorch leaves. Direct morning sunlight is best due to its low intensity. This plant also grows well under artificial lighting sources like grow lights.
Ginseng Ficus Watering
Watering this plant depends on the level of humidity of its growing environment – it needs frequent watering in arid/dry conditions and less in humid conditions.
This can usually be once in 3-4 days up to once in 10 days. Inspect the soil and if it seems damp, don’t water it yet. Don’t allow water to collect and water-log the roots. Water it less frequently in winter, about once in two weeks, as growth slows down.
Ginseng Ficus Humidity
This plant thrives in moist, humid climates in its native environments. It will produce aerial roots like a banyan tree in high humidity levels of 70-100%. It tolerates low humidity because of its thick leaves but thrives better with higher humidity. It has to be misted every day if humidity levels are low.
Ginseng Ficus Temperature
It is a tropical and subtropical plant and prefers temperatures above 65°F all through the year. However, it can tolerate low temperatures, suffering damage in lows below 32°F. Ideally, a temperature range between 60-75°F is perfect for this plant. Protect it from wind and drafts as it will lead to leaves dropping off.
Ginseng Ficus Soil
An ordinary plant soil with good drainage is good enough. This is a very easy plant to tend to.
Ginseng Ficus Repotting
Repotting this plant is essential, every 1-3 years although once yearly is ideal, along with defoliating and pruning foliage and roots to gradually create a magnificent, elegant bonsai.
Use a container that drains well, with a drainage layer of pebbles or gravel, enough drainage holes, and clean sand added to the soil mix. Repotting replenishes nutrients and helps you to monitor the roots.
Ginseng Ficus Propagation
Propagation is done with stem cuttings or from roots (for bonsai). Take a stem cutting and remove all the leaves, then plant it in a container with enough drainage holes and filled with well-draining soil.
Set it close to a window and water it well. Transplant the new plant to a suitable container when rooting takes and care for it like the original plant.
This plant can grow into a huge tree outdoors in tropical climates, but you will have to keep pruning it to keep it small if you want it to grow as a bonsai.
There are three ways to go about this, the first one involving constantly checking and pruning the plant, removing unnecessary twigs and foliage. Each time see ten new leaves growing, cut the sprigs back, and remove 4-6 new leaves. This will make the plant produce new leaves and twigs.
Try to achieve balanced growth of foliage to keep the plant covered like an umbrella. Rotate the pot so that growth is even each time you prune. You should only prune when new leaves sprout. Don’t prune the plant if new growth doesn’t appear.
The second technique involves heavily pruning the plant 1-2times a year. Spring is ideal to begin pruning by cutting branches and leaves drastically, removing about half the growth. This type of pruning is more suitable for training the plant into a bonsai using wires.
The third technique involves exposing the roots by pulling the plant out of the soil and cutting away the stem just above the thick juicy roots. Roots should be cleaned and placed on top of fresh soil mix. New roots sprout and anchor the plant to the soil, developing gray-brown bark like the stem to protect the exposed roots and becoming a thick trunk for bonsai. New branches will begin sprouting as well, growing horizontally and easy to guide or train into an elegant bonsai. Older branches from the discarded stem are then grafted into the cut stem to grow upward and forming an umbrella appearance.
This, however, takes a bit of time, about one to two years before the roots get thick enough to start the bonsai process.
When pruning, you will have to select allowing either the horizontally-growing shoots or the upward growing branches to shape your bonsai.
Ginseng Ficus Common Problems
This plant can attract pests like spider mites or scale. These can be eliminated with cotton swabs or a brush drenched with rubbing alcohol and/or suitable pesticides.
Under-watering or drafts can make leaves brittle and drop off – ensure you water the plant properly and keep the plant away from drafty areas. Over-watering or water-logging can make leaves become yellow and drop – you must allow the soil to dry before watering the plant again, check whether the pot is draining well, or add cactus/succulent soil mix or sand to aid the draining process.
This plant is very sensitive to being moved around and throws a tantrum by dropping its leaves, so make sure to find an ideal location without drafts to sustain good bonsai health.