Ficus retusa V2 (Electric Boogaloo)

This Ginseng Ficus (Ficus retusa) was shown a while ago in a previous post where I separated the tree and made a lot of little clones. It’s been almost three years since then and I wanted to make an update and show you plans I’ve got for it’s future.

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Lets start with my favorite tree, I want to style it in the art form of Kengai, or cascade style, but that’s easier said then done. The reason is because the specific style has many different rules that have to be checked off to be considered “proper” and I’m about as slopper as it gets. First off, the apex of the foliage must grow below the rim of the pot and right now the whole thing kind of just grows sideways to put it simply. I can not give it proper light in the winters and so the tree stretches to reach the light through a process called phototropism. The good news though is that I’ve already planned for this type of growth, and I’m going to use it to my advantage, you’ll see.

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It’s too cold outside for me to work on my tropical trees anymore. Notice all of the yellow and fallen leaves. This happened because it was outside in full sun all spring and summer and now it is inside clinging to what little light it can grab in my apartment. This combined with how cold it got before i brought it in almost caused a disaster.

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I’ll go ahead and remove all of the yellow leaves.

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This little brown shield grows over the leaf during times of rest, you can actually break it off to expose the fresh new leaf underneath.

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In the above picture i ripped part of it off so you can see what I mean. It’s not good for the tree, but this was in the name of education. With that though lets move on to actually working on this tree.

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The first step is to look at the roots. I’m never very gentle with my ficus trees because they are so tough. I’ve cut off 70 percent of the roots and branches before at the same time and the tree just sprouts right back to life. This tree (or trees I should say) was so overgrown I had to actually cut the pot to pieces with a boxcutter.

I lost my keys and can’t get into the trunk of my car for my regular tools, so now I’m using a fork and knife.

In the wild, the strangler fig grows roots out of its branches and trunk for a number of reasons, but to understand more about that, I want to talk a little bit about it’s life cycle first.

This is going to take so long…

The fig tree firstly starts by producing an enormous amount of fruit. The edible fig is a bright color, sweet and appealing to birds and primates alike. In fact in Indian culture it is often referred to as a “Life Tree” because of large variety of different animals that tend to use the trees as shelter and food source. Around the world though, it is also called “The tree of death” and for good reason. Suppose a bird took some of the fig fruit to another tree to enjoy the meal. As the seeds are dropped they become snagged in the canopy of the host tree and because the jungles they are from are so humid, the tiny ficus seeds began to germinate right there on the spot. That’s right, In the beginning of this trees life, it is usually an epiphyte living with the orchids and ferns on the branches of other trees. They use leaves that have been trapped and decayed in tree crotches as temporary fertilizer as the roots snake their way down into the forest floor and eventually root into the ground.

Wikipedia image of a strangler fig on a host tree

Now the host tree is in serious trouble. Sure enough, year after year, the fig grows more roots downward along the base of the host trees trunk, constricting it. The fig roots fuse to themselves everywhere that they touch other fig roots and swell with age as more energy is being sent up to the top of the fig tree that is by this point actively choking out all the sunlight from the host tree growing below it. Eventually the host tree succumbs to its fate and is strangled and killed with only a trunk left for support of the fig. With enough time even the trunk is decomposed completely, leaving behind only a memory of what used to be.

Photo by; umtrees.wordpress.com

With all that being said, I want to get back to my little strangler fig here. I hate the way the roots look, luckily I can just keep cloning more trees and fusing them to the parent tree until they start to look the way I want them to. Think Lovecraftian horror, but a lot less racist. I want people to look at this confusing mass of roots and tree trunks and feel downright uncomfortable. That’s why I already have a lot of these more mature clones started. They are all three years old and come from the original, that pretty much brings us back to the beginning of the post.

Unfortunately, a long time ago when I first got this bonsai from the home depot I never picked a single leader on the tree, that’s not a particularly bad but it has taken much longer for the trunks to thicken up. All three (or maybe four) are competing with each other to become to dominate apical leader. They all all use vigor at the same time and it messes with how quickly they will get taper, that’s why they all mostly lack it right now. Good thing when I made these clones I already had the plan to fuse them with the already existing trunks.

Here I’m using zip ties instead of wire to fuse these branches. One of the main reasons is I only want the stem grafting to occur at these spots. The parts that graft together will become swollen in that area as there is more phloem and xylem moving through those cells. This causes an abnormally chunky growth that will almost resemble a burl.

I’m using wire on this part because I want fusion all along this trunk.

These are the roots that I’m attempting to fuse to this rock. I’m not sure yet if its ready or if I’ll keep it growing underground for another three years. If you guys haven’t realized already; Bonsai is a frustratingly slow hobby and art form. I can, however, fuse the clones roots to the roots of the mother plant just like the branches to hopefully speed this process even more. If I lived closer to the equator the ficus would be growing nonstop all year, essentially, what it takes me six years to do here would only take two years or even less in India. So for my readers who are across the pond, good on ya.

So here is the larger of the two two clones, The roots hug the corner of the rocks bald spot perfectly. It will graft nicely to the parent plant.

Now for the smaller clone. This one took forever to unwrap from the others. This clone, as well as the one shown before it are actually two trees already fused together.

I’m actually just setting it in this pot so I can see/show you where and how the roots were rearranged around the main rock.

You can see how damaged some of the roots are, again, the tree does not mind much, and springs right back to life.
You can see how this amazing tree gets its nickname “Strangler Fig” Just look at how it constricts its own roots!
Final image of root designs on the exposed pot

I have decided that the tree can go back into a small(Ish) pot and begin the bonsai process. The roots and branches are looking quite nice and I believe this section of training is over for the tree.

I am a fan of reusing my soil if it doesn’t seem too far degraded. The tree will not need fertilizer for several weeks now anyways.

Here is the finished product this time, as you can tell the tree is a little bigger than when I made the post a few years back. I kinda fudged the original plan and moved the tree into a huge pot so it would grow faster. Even now after transplanting it into another pot I’m going to keep it a little large. I want those big chunky roots to really grow and cling to that rock. A larger pot is the best way to do that for a ficus.

Thank you so much for reading and keep an eye out for my next posts where we talk about the aquatic plants I have in my planted tropical aquarium as well as how i will incorporate them into a bonsai accent for this ficus.

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Author: garesgarden

ISA Certified Arborist, Amateur Botanist, and future Agricultural Engineer.

3 thoughts on “Ficus retusa V2 (Electric Boogaloo)”

    1. Thanks so much! I’m sure you could very quickly grow a ficus bonsai! Like I mentioned in an earlier post mine only actively grow for a few months out of the year up here. Ficus should by all accounts grow much quicker than most succulents!

      Liked by 1 person

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