A large genus of trees or shrubs cultivated for their ornamental leaves, F. elastica, familiarly known as the rubber tree, is the species we are interested in above all others, although for private collections and botanic gardens several others are noble plants. F. repens (properly F. stipulata) is a small-leaved, very useful climbing plant, growing and adhering closely to the walls of greenhouses, making a very pretty appearance, and will withstand a few degrees of frost.
Branched Plant of Ficus Elastica.
Ficus Parcelli has a very prettily variegated leaf. It is very unlike elastica, the plant being more branching and slow growing. The leaves are sharp pointed, three or four inches long and very irregularly blotched. It is handsome when well grown, but is most horribly addicted to thrips and red spider.
Ficus elastica is now a plant of the first importance with all commercial plants-men. Tens of thousands are annually sold. The rubber is known to all as one of the very best house plants. We have all seen it thriving in a dark hall, and with fair treatment there are few plants that will endure unfavorable conditions as well. We get, however, lots of complaints. "My rubber is losing its leaves, etc."
They stand out in pots and tubs during summer in the broad sun and they want plenty of water. I have never seen their fine leaves burned or injured by the sun when out of doors, but they easily burn under glass in the bright days of spring before we are shaded.
The following is not quoted for my readers to follow, but the most shiny leaves and greasiest soil I ever saw were on a plant brought to me two years ago. I think the little lady brought it for my inspection because she was proud of it. It looked bright and well and its introduction to me was as follows: "What do you think of my rubber, Mr. S. I oiled its leaves yesterday with olive oil, and last week a friend told me she thought it was troubled with worms, so I gave it two tablespoonfuls of castor oil and two worms came out."
Perhaps to Mr. Wm. K. Harris, of Philadelphia, belongs the credit of growing the finest specimen rubbers in one year of any man in the world, producing branching plants six feet nigh and four feet through, and furnished with leaves to the pot. I do not pretend to tell you how to emulate Mr. Harris, but young plants that are wanted to branch should not be allowed. to grow three feet high and then cut down to the hard wood. They will break, but slowly. If wanted branched pinch the top out of the strongest young plants when not over fifteen inches high.
Ficus elastica is a tropical tree, but will exist in our greenhouses in winter at a temperature of 50 degrees or even lower, but when rapid growth is wanted 70 degrees at night is the temperature, and when growing those specimens spoken of above it is never less than that and possibly 100 in the daytime.
The rubbers thrive in a comparatively small pot and for our sales should not be overpotted. A good, open, turfy loam, with a fifth or sixth of manure, and to this compost add one quart of bone meal to every bushel.
Propagation is by two methods - cuttings and what is generally known as mossing. The latter is much the surer way. Sometimes cuttings root very well, and again under the same conditions they don't. Cuttings seven or eight inches long, with several leaves, always the latest growths, and cut just below a joint, inserted in a 2-inch pot of sand and loam, the end of the cutting well down to bottom of pot and the pot plunged in some material where the bottom heat is 80 degrees, will usually meet with success. Keep the cuttings after the first watering only moderately moist. As the leaves are much in the way a small stick is inserted in the pot to which the leaves are drawn up. If this were not done they would take up a great deal of room and be inconvenient to water. They should be well rooted in the small pots before being shifted. Late spring is a good time to propagate by cuttings. By the mossing system failure is almost impossible. March, April and May are favorable months for the operation because the wood is about right then, but it can be done at any time. The tops of young plants can be taken, although large branching trees are usually kept where they are propagated in any quantity. Nine or ten inches from the tip of the shoot, where the wood is not too green nor too hard, a cut is made in the wood upwards about an inch and a half long from the bark to about half way through the shoot. Sphagnum moss is inserted to keep the cut open and more moss wrapped round to entirely envelop the stem where the cut has been made. If the moss when tied on is as large as a hen's egg you have enough on. Keep the moss syringed daily.
In five or six weeks you will see roots protruding through the moss. Let them get well rooted and then sever from the plant just below the moss, and pot. The young plants should be kept from sun and draught till they take hold of the new soil.
Ficus Pandurata is a comparatively new species, of strong growth and massive foliage, as is well shown in the accompanying illustration, which also gives some idea of the decorative value. As indicated by the specific name, the leaves of this plant have some resemblance in outline to the body of a fiddle, and one of the strong features of the plant is found in the tough texture of its foliage, from which it has proved to be an excellent house plant, enduring dust and draughts with almost as much impunity as an aspidistra.
W. H. Taplin says the tops of this ficus may be mossed and rooted just as readily as those of the common Ficus elastica, and when rooted will flourish under the same conditions as its better known relative, but the cut back plants do not break away quite so freely, and consequently the propagation of Ficus pandurata is somewhat slower than that of the ordinary rubber.
This is a plant that occupies a good deal of space, and consequently must bring a good price to the grower.