Houseplants Plant propagation

A Rubber Plant From a Leaf Cutting?

Question: I accidentally knocked a leaf off my rubber plant and have placed it in a glass of water. Will it root and produce a new rubber plant or am I simply wasting my time?

Latif

Réponse: Your rubber plant (Ficus elastica) leaf may well root, but it will never produce a new plant. 

Ficus leaves, especially those of large-leaved species—the fiddle-leaf fig, F. lyrata, for example—do have the capacity to produce roots from a leaf petiole if conditions are good. However, what they don’t have is the capacity to produce a new plant from a single leaf. There is no dormant bud on a ficus leaf that can eventually grow into a plant. You’ll get plenty of roots and the leaf may live on for months, even a few years (you’d have to pot it up into soil for that), but it will forever remain a single, lonely leaf.

Rooted leaves that never produce shoots are said to be “blind cuttings”. 

On the Internet, I often see thrilled indoor gardeners marveling over the leaf cuttings they took of a rubber plant: “Look,” they crow, “my leaf has roots!” They all look forward to the huge and beautiful rubber plant it will one day become, but they are going to be bitterly disappointed. 

A stem cutting from rubber plant, even one with only a single node, can root and produce a new shoot and, eventually, an entire new plant. Photo: gardentia.net

Now, if a piece of stem were included as part of the cutting, that would change everything. A stem cutting of such ficus plants, even only one with a single leaf, does have a dormant bud, found at the leaf base. So, if the stem roots, the bud will begin to grow and will soon produce a new plant.

But a leaf alone will be forever blind. 

There aren’t many plants that are capable of producing an entire new plant from a leaf cutting. African violets, streptocarpus, sansesverias, sedums, echeverias and (some) begonias are exceptions and will readily produce new plants from a healthy leaf. But none of ficus varieties will. 

Sorry to disappoint you!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “A Rubber Plant From a Leaf Cutting?

  1. They actually ‘can’, they just don’t. The same undifferentiated callus growth from which adventitious roots develop has the potential to also produce adventitious buds. However, such buds are rare, and by the time they start to grow, the original leaf is old and fading, and unable to sustain shoot growth.
    I managed to get Ficus microcarpa leaves to root and grow into small houseplants, but would not recommend it. I only did it because I was rooting some cuttings I brought back from down South, and stuck the broken leaves in with them. I was annoyed when the cuttings got pulled out by squirrels and left out to die on a hot day, just after getting potted, so I tended to the rooted leaves. They eventually developed adventitious shoots, but it took a long time. Since the shoots grow from undifferentiated burl growth, they suckered profusely, not matter how much I tried to prune them onto just a few dominant stems. Normal cuttings grow from just a few distinct buds, so are easier to prune to just a few, or a single main stem.
    We sometimes, although very rarely, find rooted leaves in our flats of rhododendron cuttings. We do not intentionally stick them, but they sometimes break off in the process, and develop callus growth and roots right next to the cuttings from which they broke off of. We discard them, just because they can not keep up with the stem cuttings.

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