Almost everyone that has ever purchased a Ficus tree (benjamina that is) has had to drag out the rake, broom or whatever to clean up the leaves that have dropped.
Generally, when you ask an interior plant professional “Why do Ficus lose leaves?” you’ll usually receive a short but simple answer – “It’s acclimating”. This is true, but a more complete answer will help you understand what is happening.
Acclimating in the world of plants is normally pigeon holed as a matter of going from high light to lower light or vice-versa. With Ficus as you learned yesterday comes from an area which experiences seasonal changes.
It sheds its leaves and reduces the amount of foliage to survive because it will not have enough water to support them during the dry season. When the rains return, new growth comes out and the canopy returns.
Leaf drop is the survival mechanism for Ficus benjamina. They are truly a creature of habit. Ficus just don’t like changes.
Here’s the Technical Stuff…
“What really happens is that ficus’ generate internal ethylene when exposed to moisture stress. The plants think the dry season is coming, and leaves are shed. Exposure to ethylene causes leaf loss, as does low-level exposure to mercury from paints. Moisture-stressed ficus’ tend to drop yellow leaves, whereas green leaves are shed when exposed to ethylene, low-light stress, or mercury.”
-Tropical Growers Guide
Once you have decided where you are going to place your Ficus (the more light the better), give it the same lighting, same amount of water and stay on the same schedule.
Consistency – is the best key to keeping leaves on the tree and your plant looking good.
The Ficus family is a diverse one with over eight hundred species and thousands of varieties. Most of these species originate in the Old World tropics. Ficus benjamina, commonly known as the “weeping fig” can originally be found in India, northern Australia, and Southeast Asia.
The Ficus benjamina can grow very large 30-40 feet high or more and is found growing both in full sun all the way down to the heavy shaded dense forest.
As far as light goes – Ficus is a very versatile plant. Growig in full sun it will develop a thick canopy of leaves. But, in the dense forest it will grow very open with fewer leaves and thin weeping branches. This explains some of the leaf loss when plants move from a higher light level to a lower light level.
Just as birds migrate south for the winter season, the benjamina comes from an area that has very distinct seasons. The exception is that the seasons are wet and dry.
How does a benjamina prepare for the dry season?
It sheds its leaves. It reduces the amount of leaves to survive since the plant will not have enough water to support the full leaf canopy during the dry season. When the rainy season returns, new growth comes out and the canopy returns.
This offers another reason for leaf drop. When plants move to a new location – Is it the wet or dry season? The survival mechanism for benjamina is leaf drop.
Strolling into just about any garden center or nursery which handles indoor house plants you’ll find the Ficus benjamina.
There probably isn’t another indoor tree that is more popular than a Ficus benjamina. The flipside is – there probably is no other plant that causes more grief, headaches, agony or frustration then the Ficus benjamina.
Ficus benjamina is also commonly known as the “weeping fig.” There are probably a few reasons for that name. The Ficus does come from the fig family and indoors shows a “weeping” habit with branches that hang or “weep” down. But for many Ficus owners the name “weeping fig” may come more from the leaves raining down on the floor or the way this tree can make you cry.
A Ficus “weeping fig” can shed its leaves very easily – you just need to learn the conditions and reasons why!
Ficus trees, believe it or not, are tough characters, unfortunately many Ficus trees are thrown out, discarded, given away and dumped prematurely.
You may ask yourself – How can a plant that looks so great at the nursery seem to fall apart so quickly once it reaches home?
Is a Ficus really a tough plant for indoor use?
Let’s look at – Where Ficus trees come from and how this information can help answer many care questions.