Fiddle Leaf Fig Care

Background Information

Ficus lyrata is a species of evergreen tropical tree native to the lowlands of western Africa (Sierra Leone to Cameroon). Belonging to the fig family, Moraceae, it is known as the Fiddle Leaf Fig because its leaves are similar to the size and shape of fiddles.  Unlike common myths about them (and there are many!), they are not temperamental, and they are not difficult, provided that you have the correct conditions for them.

In the tropics, growing space is at a premium!  So much so that plants even grow up or on other plants (vines and epiphytes).  Many Ficus have adapted to using leaf drop to compete with any plants trying to sprout in the space directly beneath them.  By dropping a bunch of leaves at once, the new sprouts are smothered, so that only the suckers (asexual root-derived clones) from the ficus plant can sprout.  Other Ficus are so aggressive at growing that they literally strangle the plant that they are growing on.  So, I’ll bluntly say, these plants are natural weeds.  They can bounce back from a lot of abuse.  The key to keeping them leafy and growing is simply putting them in a window, and letting them get a bit of direct sun.  The more direct sun, the fuller and leafier they will be.  If they get ambient light, that’s fine too – they will just be leggier and less-full.

The family Moraceae is a family of shrubs, trees, and lianas, all of which will bleed a latex-y sap upon wounding. Members of this family exhibit foliar polymorphisms, meaning that their leaf shapes will be different for different stages of life. This is a fairly odd characteristic, as most other plants make the same leaf shapes throughout their lives. Leaves are alternately arranged.  The unique thing about the fig family is the complex inverted flower and wasp-dependent pollination to form viable seeds.

Interestingly, by strict standards, figs are not vegan because the female wasp dies inside the fruit (and is dissolved by the plant via enzymes).  Fiddle leaf figs reproduce sexually by a similar mechanism, but the fruit are inedible.

General Care

Sunlight

Can tolerate a wide range of light conditions, as they exist at multiple levels of height in the rainforest.  These happen to grow in direct sun in Cameroon, so as much direct sun as you can give it is optimal.  These are not shade plants, or “low light” by any means.

Water

Allow soil to dry out completely between waterings. Expect to water more often in brighter light and less often in lower light.

Humidity

Any humidity level will do.  Doesn’t care about humidity.  In fact, don’t mist it, as you’ll invite a foliar infection.

Temperature

65°F-85°F (18°C-30°C). It’s best not to let it go below 60°F (15°C).

Common Problems

Fiddles are happiest in a stable environment and should always be placed right in or near a window. Like other tropical plants, keep away from air conditioners, heaters and drafts.

SYMPTOM: Leaf drop
CAUSE: 9 times out of 10 indoors, fiddle leaf fig leaf drop is caused by inadequate light.  Secondary causes could be from too wet/dry soil or temperature flux.  No, it’s not always overwatering.  If you read any other blog that says that leaf drop is from overwatering only, they have no idea how plants work, and you should send them a strongly-worded letter.

SYMPTOM: Yellow leaves, wet potting mix
CAUSE: Overwatering or soil not drying out enough between waterings.  Reduce frequency of watering, and increase light.

SYMPTOM: Crispy, curling leaves with irregular browning patches
CAUSE: Fungal problem

Other Notes

I don’t know the exact toxicity, but it’s safest to assume that it’s poisonous to cats, dogs, and humans if consumed.  Best practice is always to keep houseplants out of reach of small children and pets.

Honestly, this thing became popular because it is always in the background of design and architecture magazines.  The plant, in the early 2010s, used to be a common Florida landscape hedge, and you really couldn’t pay people enough to take the plant away from you!  The power of marketing is an interesting force that really transformed this from just another garden weed to just another garden weed that you like totes need in your home or else you’ll be uncool…  Personally, I think it looks like a cabbage tree, but to each, their own, I s’pose.

Special thanks to Encyclopedia Britannica for their image!

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