The Mulberry family has many members including ficus or figs. Many are invasive, at least one is edible, but most are just ornamental. There are several ficus that are plain old prohibited because of their invasive nature related to size and aggressive roots. One ficus that is still available as a houseplant or landscape plant (when kept in bounds) is called the creeping fig. This leafy spreading vine has been used as a landscape groundcover or more often a climbing, clinging vine on hardscapes such as walls and stonework.
When you purchase a small pot of creeping fig, the foliage is very small — 1 inch long and a ½ inch wide and dark green. With time and without a pruning plan, a single vine has the potential to grow well over 10-feet long and wide. Creeping figs use roots with adhesive-like pads and a latex material to cling and glue themselves in place as they grow. This characteristic can make them hard to remove from walls, wooden structures and stucco, so be advised of this potentially damaging nature. While very ornamental, creeping figs should be kept within bounds with judicious pruning as needed.
Creeping figs change a bit as they mature. To the surprise of many, the small diminutive leaves of young plants change on mature growth (generally after plants become around 2 years old) to 3 inch long, two-inch wide leaves. The vine thickens and branches out eventually setting inedible, three-inch long fruit — a very different type of growth.
Creeping figs are hardy in our area and are noted as drought-tolerant and adaptable to both sunny or shady planting sites. They also can be used to make spectacular topiaries when trained on a sphagnum-filled frame. Beyond being used as a landscape, in-ground plant, they also make very manageable specimens in hanging baskets or planters. In addition to the all-green variety, and a couple of variegated forms — Snowflake and Sunny Fig — there is also a cultivar with tiny leaves called Minima, and one called Quercifolia with foliage that resembles small oak leaves. A helpful trait of the cultivar Snowflake is that it grows slower and tends to stay smaller than the all-green types.
Now, while creeping figs can be aggressive growers, they are not technically considered “invasive” in our area, but need attention in the landscape to keep them in bounds. In fact, creeping figs are actually Florida-Friendly Landscaping plants, but like many plants, selection should be based on the FFL Principle of “Right Plant, Right Place.”
Creeping figs can make a neat foliage plant/groundcover/wall covering for selected areas of your landscape.
For more information on all types of Florida-Friendly Landscaping plants suitable for our area, or to ask a question, please visit www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline.
Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.