We have all heard of the extremely popular Fiddle Leaf Fig that is a staple in every house and hipster coffee shop. The Ficus umbellata, also known by its common name, umbrella fig tree, is a lesser known but equally fascinating member of the genus.
The Ficus umbellata tree displays large pleated foliage with serrated edges. Ficus umbellata care takes a bit of practice to get right but is well worth the effort. This impressive plant can grow to four feet tall indoors and adds a sophisticated, tropical touch to any space. Enjoy all of the important details listed below on how to care for a Ficus umbellata!
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The Ficus umbellata tree is a close relative of the more popular fiddle leaf fig tree. However, it remains relatively unknown among plant collectors in the United States. Instead, this ornamental tree is often seen in Japan where it’s treasured for its impressive, oversized leaves paired with thin, graceful stems.
Like most other ficus plants, the Ficus umbellata plant comes from a tropical environment. Namely, this particular species is native to the region of western Africa. This means the plant will have very specific water and temperature needs, but you’ll find that the effort is well worth it. With adequate care, this plant can grow attractively lush and has strong potential to become the next “it” plant in the Western Hemisphere.
- Common Name: Umbrella Fig Tree
- Scientific Name: Ficus umbellata
- Mature Size: up to 4 feet tall
- Sunlight: bright, indirect light
- Water: when top 2 inches of soil are dry with tepid water
- Soil: well draining, loose
- Temperature: 65°F-85°F
- Propagation: stem cuttings
- Hardiness Zone: 9b-11
- Toxicity: toxic to humans and pets
Growth Pattern and Habits
Under ideal conditions, the Ficus umbellata grows relatively fast. During its active growing season, which takes place in the summer, the Ficus umbellata’s growth rate is such that it can produce a new leaf every week. The size of a Ficus umbellata can reach a maximum height of four feet along with a maximum spread of four feet, thanks to its oversized leaves. Therefore, you should make sure to clear a spot in your home for this plant, because it will eventually dominate any room it inhabits.
Ficus umbellata trees tend to lose their shape as they mature, so pruning is often necessary. Along with keeping the plant well-groomed, pruning your Ficus umbellata also encourages it to sprout fresh leaves and stems from its base, which can help fill it out if it becomes leggy. It is helpful to add a support post when you notice your umbrella ficus beginning to bend under the weight of the large, plate sized leaves.
Expert Tip – It may be difficult to find a Ficus umbellata in brick and mortar stores in the United States and possibly even in Europe as this plant is just making its way into these plant scenes. Try looking for reputable Etsy plant sellers or specialized tropical plant growers online.
Because it grows quickly, a Ficus umbellata raised indoors will need to be repotted about once a year. Repotting ensures roots have more room to spread, and the fresh soil provides extra nourishment for the plant. Avoid choosing a container that’s too large, which may lead to accidental overwatering. Instead, upgrade to a pot that’s only an inch or two wider than the previous one. Whatever container you choose, make sure there are holes in the bottom for drainage.
As a general group, fig trees can be a fickle plant. They do not like being moved from room to room. Once you have your Ficus umbellata plant in its ideal home, keep it there. Moving your plant may increase the chances that it will drop numerous leaves due to the stress of changing conditions.
The Ficus umbellata tree loves sunlight, but too much direct sunlight will scorch its leaves. Mild, morning or early evening light is preferable over harsh afternoon rays. With this in mind, your Ficus umbellata will probably do best when it’s placed near a sunny window inside your home.
If you want to house your Ficus umbellata near a window with southern exposure, position about three feet away to avoid direct, harsh rays from damaging the foliage. A Ficus umbellata that has chronically received too much direct sunlight will have yellowing/browning leaves. You will also notice that numerous leaves are dropping to the floor.
A Ficus umbellata tree that is receiving too little light will become leggy. This means that there are larger than normal spaces between leaves, making the plant look sparse.
If you choose to raise this plant outdoors, choose a spot that is well-lit but shaded, such as the east or west side of your house.
Expert Tip – Rotate your Ficus umbellata weekly to keep it growing straight. This plant will bend towards the light and you definitely don’t want a lopsided umbrella ficus tree in your house!
Another facet of Ficus Umbellata care is watering! Being from a tropical region, the Ficus umbellata requires above average watering frequency, requiring even more water during the spring and summer. However, it prefers to dry out a little bit between watering sessions. The roots are thin and delicate, making the plant highly sensitive to overwatering. Meanwhile, underwatering the Ficus umbellata tree can result in slow growth, drooping, or dropped leaves.
To strike the right balance, simply conduct the finger test by sticking your finger into the soil. Wait until the top two inches of the soil feel dry to the touch before adding more water to the pot. Add just enough tepid water to saturate the soil without making it soggy. A good way to gauge this is to add water until it flows out from under the pot, discarding the excess water afterwards.
The ideal soil for this plant is well-draining, moisture-retaining, and rich in nutrients. You can create your own specialized soil mix by combining one part potting soil with two parts cactus soil. Tree soil is another good option for this plant with a similar balance between moisture retention and drainage.
Expert Tip – To boost your soil’s ability to drain, try mixing in some perlite, or coconut coir.
Avoid using straight potting soil on its own. Generic potting soil lacks structure and tends to fall flat on itself, cutting off the roots’ access to oxygen. Potting soil will also be too rich in nutrients for the Ficus umbellata. If this type of soil is your only option, mix it with equal parts perlite or peat moss.
Temperature and Humidity
The weather in the Ficus umbellata’s native environment is relatively warm and stable year-round. This makes the plant highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations, changing seasons, and extremely dry climates. You should aim to keep your plant in the temperature range of 65-85°F, which is easy to do if you’re raising it as a houseplant.
This plant will also do well as a potted patio plant or a greenhouse plant. Plants raised on the patio should be brought indoors once the temperature drops below 60°F. Those living in hardiness zones 9-11 can successfully plant their Ficus umbellata in the ground. If you choose to go the in-ground route, make a note on your calendar to lay down mulch and cover your plant to keep off the frost during the colder months.
Along with warmth, humidity is another element of the tropics that’s required for this plant to thrive. Ideally, you should aim for 50% or above relative humidity for a Ficus umbellata. Indoors, you can place a pebble tray nearby or mist the plant every other day. If you don’t live in a naturally humid area, you can support your outdoor Ficus umbellata tree by planting it near a water feature, such as a fountain or pond.
In most cases, the nutrients in your Ficus umbellata’s soil will be enough to sustain its growth. However, you may choose to provide extra energy during the growing season by fertilizing once a month. While it’s not necessary, your plant will undoubtedly absorb nutrients at a faster rate during its growing season. Therefore, applying fertilizer every once in a while ensures your plant has enough fuel to produce healthy, attractive foliage.
The easiest way to fertilize your plant is to use a slow-releasing fertilizer, which takes the guesswork out of feedings. You can also choose any all-purpose, balanced fertilizer that’s formulated for tropical houseplants. Too much fertilizer may burn the plant, so be sure to dilute according to instructions.
It is totally possible to propagate a Ficus umbellata. It just takes some patience as the new roots are very slow to form. It can take several months for cuttings to produce their first roots. Here is how to propagate a Ficus umbellata using stem cuttings:
- Wearing gloves (to protect your hands from the irritating sap), use a sterile knife or shears and take several five to six inch stem cuttings. Cut the stems at a diagonal. Be sure these stem cuttings have a couple of leaves attached.
- Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting to expose fresh nodes.
- Lay the cuttings out to dry out for a couple of days. This allows the ends to callus over which helps prevent future rotting of the stem.
- Rooting hormone is optional but helpful for speeding up the rooting process. Dip the callused ends in root hormone
- Plant the cuttings, cut end first, into a pot with fresh soil (the same soil as described above for a mature Ficus umbellata). Be sure to bury the bottom nodes underneath the soil.
- Give your newly planted cuttings a big drink of water. Continue providing water whenever the soil appears dry to keep it hydrated. When a cutting exhibits new growth, such as a new leaf node, you can transplant it to its own pot and raise it as an entirely new plant.
Leaves Turning Yellow
A Ficus umbellata‘s leaves should be a glossy, medium to dark green, so yellowing leaves are a sign that something is wrong. Usually, the culprit is overwatering or humidity that’s too low. To counteract yellow leaves, simply adjust your watering schedule or take measures to raise humidity.
Yellowing leaves that begin to turn brown and crispy is likely a sign of an Ficus umbellata being exposed to too much direct sunlight. Simply remove these leaves and position the plant farther away from the source of sunlight.
When an Ficus umbellata is consistently overwatered, it will likely develop root rot. Along with yellow leaves, root rot will be accompanied by a moldy odor, mushy stems, and brown, rotting roots. This condition is potentially deadly, so it’s important to stop watering and repot to a new container with fresh soil, if necessary.
Drooping leaves are a sure sign of underwatering. When a Ficus umbellata tree doesn’t get enough water, it loses its tone and ability to support the plant’s large, heavy leaves. If your plant begins to droop, make sure you are adding enough water to the pot to saturate the soil down to the roots. Also, don’t let the soil dry out completely.
The Ficus umbellata is vulnerable to many common household pets, including aphids, spider mites, and scale. Sometimes, these microscopic insects can be spotted with the naked eye in sheltered areas of your houseplants, such as under leaves or in between two joined stems.
More often, your plant’s failing condition will be the first noticeable symptom of an infestation. Look for unusual lesions on the leaves, dropping leaves, poor growth, or dark, black spots that look like coffee grounds on the surface of your plant.
If your Ficus umbellata tree is infested with pests, you should separate it from its neighboring houseplants immediately. Then, wipe down the affected areas with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol everyday. It can also be helpful to spray the plant with a solution of neem oil.
Expert Tip – Pruning is an important aspect of Ficus umbellata care. Regularly prune your Ficus umbellata of dying leaves to keep it healthy and hygienic.
To prevent pests from establishing themselves on your plants, make sure to grow them under the right conditions. For an added layer of protection, treat your plant with neem oil, which is an all-natural insect repellent.
All parts of the Ficus umbellata are toxic to humans and animals due to calcium oxalate crystals in the leaves, stems, sap, and roots. Calcium oxalate crystals are extremely tiny and sharp. In high enough amounts, they can damage the soft tissues inside your mouth and digestive tract.
The crystals can also form a rash if your skin is exposed to the plant’s sap. If you have sap on your fingers and go on to rub your eyes, you may be at risk of experiencing a corneal abrasion. To prevent any unnecessary injuries, always wear your gloves when handling this plant and thoroughly wash your hands after you’re done.
Symptoms of calcium oxalate ingestion include drooling, swelling, hoarseness, and a burning sensation. Upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea can happen if any parts of the plant are swallowed. In most cases, these symptoms are temporary and can be managed with some basic self-care. If you experience worsening symptoms or prolonged swelling that affects your breathing, you should contact poison control or emergency services.
A unique and distinct cousin of the fiddle leaf fig, the Ficus umbellata plant is a beautiful way to spruce up your living space! While it can be a bit picky, consistent care will reward you with a tall branching tropical plant with large plate-sized leaves.
Because of its branching nature, the Ficus umbellata can be pruned to various shapes. Be sure to keep your home environment consistent and not move the plant around as this can cause extreme stress to your plant.
Since the Ficus umbellata is toxic to cats, kids, dogs and other animals that may be curious enough to take a bite, keep it out of reach.
A Ficus umbellata’s size and health all depends on the details. I hope you now feel like you are a master of Ficus umbellata care and will be on the lookout to add one to your collection!