Large-Leafed Ficus: September 2019 Houseplant of the Month

Different varieties of variegated rubber plant (Ficus elastica).

Ficus are well-known for being indoor trees with hundreds of little leaves, like the weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) and the Indian laurel (F. microcarpa), but other species come with large leaves that instantly give the plant a totally different, more rugged silhouette. These green giants are perfect for bringing atmosphere to a room quickly as a statement plant.

Houseplants like ficuses with large leaves improve the air in your home by converting CO2 to oxygen. The large leaves also absorb toxic particulates from the air and store them in their roots where they are broken down and expelled. Furthermore, the green leaves improve the humidity in your home by transpiring moisture very gradually. That makes large-leaved ficus great plants for celebrating the start of the indoor season.


Ficus is the Latin name for fig. The Romans especially knew the edible fig (Ficus carica), but it’s actually rather an exception: a deciduous, subtropical, small tree with edible fruits in a genus of some 850 species in the mulberry family, most of which are tall tropical trees with inedible fruit and evergreen foliage. There are figs throughout the tropical and subtropical world, mostly in Asia and Africa, but also South and North America and Australia not to mention on many islands.  

What to Look for When Buying Large-leaved Ficus

Banyan (Ficus benghalensis) with a straight trunk, pinched to stimulate branching.
  • Large-leaved ficus are offered in various forms: branched, unbranched, single trunk, woven trunk or corkscrew trunk.
  • A bush shape or clump involves several plants in a pot.
  •  The number of heads per trunk or trunks per pot, the pruned shape and whether the plant has aerial roots affect the price.
  •  All forms of large-leaved ficus should be well rooted and sufficiently acclimatized to typical home conditions.
  •  Check for the presence of scale insects and mealybugs at the time of purchase.

Ficus Assortment 

From left to right, fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata), African fig (Ficus cyathistipula) and rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’).

The fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) is available as a bush and as a standard tree and has huge shiny leaves that resemble a violin. The large, eye-catching veins that bring texture to the leaves particularly stand out.

The rubber plant or rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica) has smooth dark green leaves with a prominent central vein and reach a length of around 9 inches (25 cm). It tends to grow straight and tall unless pinched and therefore does not take up much space despite the large leaves. There are dozens of cultivars, often with darker green or variegated leaves. And yes, the sap of this tree was once used to produce rubber.

The banana-leaf fig (Ficus maclellandi, often sold as Ficus binnendijkii in Europe) has long, narrow leaves that hang down decoratively. The two common cultivars are ‘Alii’ and ‘Amstel King’. Available as a green pillar and as a standard with a full crown.

The banyan (Ficus benghalensis), now often sold as Ficus Audrey (no one seems to know why!), is a giant in nature. The national tree of India, in the tropics it produces aerial roots that turn into trunks, forming its own forest. Indoors, though, no aerial roots are seen and it remains fairly compact, with a hefty trunk and thick, shiny leaves more rounded than those of the rubber plant. It can grow straight up or branch if you prune it.

The African fig (Ficus cyathistipula) has dark green shiny leaves with a pronounced drip tip. It can produce tiny figs from an early age and is heavily branched, a potential indoor giant! It is semi-climbing and usually sold staked so it will grow attractively upright.

Care Tips

  • Ficus can tolerate either bright light or moderate shade. Full sun is fine in the winter.
  • It’s better not to move it frequently. Getting used to a new spot saps a lot of its energy.
  • To keep the plant from bending towards the light, give it a quarter turn once week.
  • The soil should be slightly damp at all times. Large-leaved ficus can cope with less water in winter.
  • Fertilize lightly with all-purpose fertilizer once every two weeks from spring through early fall.
  • A quick shower or standing outside in summer rain will enhance both the plant and the leaves.
  • Treat the plant to a larger pot and fresh potting soil once a year to keep large-leaved ficus in top condition and maintain their growth.

Decorating with Large-leaved Figs

Matching cachepots bring harmony to this display of variegated rubber plants (Ficus elastica).

Large-leaved ficus looks best if the plant can stand free against a light background so that the focus really is on the large leaves. 

Adjust the lighting so that it falls on the front to highlight the plant’s shine and markings. 

Display the plant in a cachepot to create an instant domestic mood. 

Large-leaved ficus: instant décor for today’s living!

Text and photos adapted from a press release by
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

6 comments on “Large-Leafed Ficus: September 2019 Houseplant of the Month

  1. Cindy Bellwood

    Where did you get all the beautiful pots?

  2. I haven’t seen Ficus rubignosa in years. I had the variegated form for over a decade.

  3. Is Ficus rubiginosa still around? I have not seen it as a houseplant in many years. Ficus macrophylla is unavailable as far as I know. Ficus is such an odd genus. Ficus lyrata, as it is grown as a houseplant, is the adult growth of the species. The juvenile growth is a vining strangler fig. That would be interesting to see.

  4. Thanks so much!! Fantastic article for such wonderful plants. I love your description of the *indoor season* as we approach the end of the year.

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