The Ficus nitida, more often referred to as the Indian Fig, Indian Laurel Fig, or the Chinese Banyan, is a rather massive tropical tree, that to those seeking the ample shade it provides, is a blessing. To others however, the sometimes invasive properties of the tree make it a pest, and at times a very destructive one.
Beware The Fig Wasp – Whether Ficus nitida is a pest or not, depends greatly on one little insect, the fig wasp. This wasp is the only insect which can pollinate the Ficus nitida and allow it to have babies. If you purchase this tree for your yard, and don’t have fig wasps in your neighborhood, you’ll probably end up with a very large, though somewhat massive shade tree. The only problem one might have is with the roots, which will grow near the surface if the tree is not watered sufficiently, eventually tearing up sidewalks and foundations of houses.
A Ficus nitida can grow to a height of about 40″ with the spread being about the same as the height. As such it is a very useful tree in hot weather climates when planted in and around parking lots and street dividers. It is hardy only in USDA Zones 9 through 11, so is grown primarily in California, Arizona, Florida and Hawaii. In the first three states mentioned it is grown primarily as a landscape or specimen tree. In Hawaii, which apparently is also home to the fig wasp, Ficus nitida has become a noxious weed, and extremely invasive. Once the fig wasp pollinates the flowers, which are rather inconspicuous to the eye, the tree will drop seeds which have a very high germination rate. As such, if unattended, a single tree could overtake a neighborhood eventually.
Like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – One resident of one of the southern states found a single seedling growing in his yard. When it was 5′ tall he left on an extended vacation and upon returning 5 months later, found the tree was now 10′ tall and consisted of 5 rather thick trunks instead of the original single trunk. In short order it had started dropping seeds and upwards to 40 additional trees had to be pulled out by the roots. The owner does not want to cut it down because it’s such a beautiful tree, but wonders what it will be like in a couple of years.
More Than Nine Lives? – Many people who own one of these trees have a love/hate relationship with it. Like some other plants, if you decide to get rid of one, it won’t necessarily go easily. The entire root ball usually has to be removed. Leave a part of a root, and soon there’ll be a new sprout. Ficus nitida, a pest in Hawaii, having spread, along with the fig wasp, to most islands, all the way to Midway in fact, is quickly becoming an invasive pest in Florida as well.
Still Popular In Some Places – Two places the tree does appear to remain quite popular are California and Arizona, where it is valued for its shade in those hot, dry climates, and is often planted in rows or kept pruned and used as large hedges. The tree does respond well to pruning, and if you have one in a place where the roots will not be a problem (don’t place one too near your neighbor) it will be enjoyed by all. Should a fig wasp happen by however, you could find yourself quickly becoming very unpopular with the neighbors. Perhaps it is a bit of a blessing that the range in which this tree is hardy is rather small.