For indoor gardeners who must pursue their hobby in small spaces, searching for and growing miniature plants can be a rewarding adventure.
Miniatures are delightful in individual containers, grouped in landscape effect or combined in a terrarium. An apartment windowsill may be ideal for a row of miniatures; a bookshelf or tabletop, with or without supplementary lighting, offers space for a terrarium.
Among small plants I have grown, creeping fig is one of my favorites. It is durable, adaptable and lends itself to a variety of garden uses.
It has been said that the creeping fig, Ficus pumila (or Ficus repens pumila) is so well known it needs no description. Its dark green leaves are about an inch long, more or less heartshaped and puckered or "waffled."
"Hug-me-tight vine" is the name one writer has applied to this vine fig because of the way it clings to walls or other supports. Roots develop at nodes (where leaves join the main stem) and apparently exude a sticky substance that enables the plant to cling tightly to a support. In warm climates, I have seen it artistically trained on outdoor walls and bearing small fruits. Fruiting branches have larger leaves but are rarely produced indoors except possibly under greenhouse or conservatory conditions. It may be hardy in protected spots in our area in mild winters, but I have not tested it.
This evergreen vine-fig is an example of the diversity of leaf shapes among fig species -- and even on one plant. Considerable variation occurs in Ficus pumila. The best known variety is Ficus pumila minima, a true miniature with leaves less than half an inch in size. This little one grows best in the humid atmosphere of a pebble tray or terrarium. In the low light of my neglected fish tank terrarium, it grew apace up the inside walls and out the top.
Another form of creeping fig is Ficus radicans, which sometimes is used as a ground cover in Florida.
The variegated form, Ficus radicans variegata, is best known and most widely cultivated as an indoor plant. Its beautifully variegated leaves are gray-green and creamy white.
All these figs prefer a humid atmosphere and moderately moist to constantly moist soil. I have found that they do not tolerate drying out. They like moderate warmth, but in a moist atmosphere can tolerate more heat. Almost any light is satisfactory, but some shading from hot summer sun is recommended. Fluorescent light culture is very successful.
Ficus pumila is sometimes used as a ground cover for large potted plants. Because its leaves lie flat against a support it is an excellent choice for topiary forms or for training on a moss totem pole. A simple cone of chicken wire stuffed with moist, long-grain sphagnum moss will be quickly covered by the vine's tendrils. Gently train the tendrils around the form, otherwise they will reach out and take root in a nearby pot. Never let the moss (or totem pole) dry out, as it is very difficult to moisten again. The plant also can be trained on a small trellis.
As a hanging basket plant, creeping fig does best where high hummidity can be maintained, as in a greenhouse, garden room or at the edge of pebble trays in the light garden.
The variety 'minima,' because of its small foliage, is especially useful in a terrarium with other miniature plants.
The variegated form, used in place of the plain green pumila, adds accent to a group of plants.
Creeping fig is easily propagated from cuttings of young vines in active growth. Insert cuttings in moist vermiculite-perlite mix in a covered container set in a warm location. The tendency to produce roots at the nodes makes propagation speedy. When rooted, set the young plants in pots of any good potting mix.
The great popularity of another fig species, the long-cultivated India rubber tree (Ficus elastica) led to the search for other fig species with equal durability. Ficus pumila was introduced into England before 1800 and soon became popular there. Its native territory is Asia, from India to China and Japan. The variegated form of Ficus radicans was introduced in the late 1800s; its origin is obscure.
The adaptability of creeping figs has made them so popular that the plants are regularly available in most plant shops and garden centers.