Sunday, April 22, 2012

Jeepers a Creeper!!

One of the nice things about being a Master Gardener is, I get to work all kinds of events and meet all kinds of people. Sometimes we get really off the wall questions like, "Do I need bees to produce flowers on my Citrus tree?" or they will bring us a plant to identify. I have actually had today's topic asked of me twice in the past dozen or so days, so I thought I might bring it to the forefront. One of the questions was, "Do you know what that plant is growing on the wall in front of Dunes West subdivision?" Luckily, I drive by there rather often and I did know. The other question pertained to the fruit that it produces, but I am getting ahead of myself. That plant on the wall is Ficus pumila, better known as Creeping Fig. It also goes by climbing fig. You have probably seen it a million times and never really paid it any attention.

This is a fast growing, aggressive, but beautiful evergreen vine. It is a relative of the edible fig, Ficus carica, but it looks very little like its cousin. Creeping fig is native to East Asia and is found on Japan's southern islands, eastern China, and Vietnam. If you are looking for a good southern ground cover or want to hide an ugly wall, this is the plant for you. As the common name 'Creeping Fig' indicates, the plant has a creeping/vining habit and is often used in gardens and landscapes. Beware though, it can become invasive and cover structures and landscape features if not maintained in check.

While this may be pretty, you should also know that, when it is climbing on buildings or wooden structures, the woody tendrils can 'Cling' or 'Root in' and damage structures and/or their surface finishes. There has also been cases of top-heavy plants peeling away from the side of houses, it literally peeled the paint right off the wall.
Okay, let's say you have an old brick wall that separates you and your neighbors. It is ugly and you want to hide it, you really want to remove it but that is not an option. Plant some of this stuff. Creeping fig is not particular about soil. It's less aggressive and easier to manage when its grown in less fertile, drier soil. It prefers a little shade, but will do just fine in full sun. When it is young give it a little supplemental water, once it is mature it is very drought tolerant. When young, the leaves are heart-shaped, and small. They get larger, becoming 2-4 inches in length,oblong and leathery when mature. It is rated for Zones 8-11. It will tolerate freezing temperatures for short durations. If you live in a climate where it is too cold in the Winter, it can be propagated by cuttings. Just dust the end with rooting hormone powder, stick it in some potting soil and then place it in a warm, humid environment. Treat it as a houseplant until next Spring.

There is even a Variegated version.

I mentioned at the top of this article that one of the questions pertained to this plant fruiting. It does, but it is a rare occasion. It looks like this.

Apparently there are numerous cultivars and some of the fruit can get very large. In Taiwan, its fruit is turned inside out and dried. The seeds are scraped off and a gel is extracted from their surface with water. It is allowed to set until it forms a jelly known in Taiwan as Aiyu Jelly and in Singapore it is known as Ice Jelly. I am not sure who thought to turn the fruit inside out, dry it and all that other stuff, but I am sure it was somebody really bored. I mean come on, "Hey Dude, lets turn this thing inside out and see what we can do with it". Would YOU know what to do with something that looks like this?!?!

Happy Growing!

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