Climbing Fig Can Be Invasive

by Ms. Grow-It-All on April 13, 2011

in Weekly Column Archive

Q: We have a large tree in our yard that I can’t identify. The “fruit” on it is odd, and when I cut it open, it smells like a gardenia. I’m sending a photo of it. Any ideas?

A: Your “tree” is actually a vine that is extremely happy where it lives. Ficus pumila, also called creeping fig or climbing fig, can climb tall buildings with the help of a sticky adhesive that it exudes. Once it reaches the top of whatever it is climbing, it puts out horizontal branches that have leather leaves. When young, its leaves have a much finer texture. Given the size of the branches, this ficus is well-established.

It’s a cousin of the fig tree we cultivate for fruit, but the fruit of this vine is considered inedible. It requires the services of a fig wasp for pollination.

Loretta Denes of Loretta Denes Landscaping said she has encountered climbing fig in its mature form only a couple of times. This plant is tough, grows in sun or shade and, once established, is drought-tolerant. It can get invasive if not kept pruned, and the adhesive damages wood. It doesn’t seem to bother concrete or stone. In colder climates, it dies back to the ground.

So you actually have a rather rare specimen in your yard.

Q: My Christmas cactus looks rather said, as though it’s melting into the pot. I’ve kept it watered weekly but it doesn’t seem to be getting better. What do I do? It was a big, beautiful plant with gorgeous blooms over the holidays.

A: Stop watering it. Your plant is drowning. Once it has finished blooming, a Christmas cactus doesn’t need much water until it starts a new growth cycle in spring. Over-watering is a common mistake.

Cut it back to where you see healthy foliage, which might be a soil level. If the soil is really soggy, you might need to repot it in fresh, dry planting medium. Set it outside in a shady spot and once you see new growth, start watering it again. Make sure it has good drainage.

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