The ginseng ficus or ficus microcarpa is a very popular plant used for the art of bonsai. It’s often mislabelled as Ficus retusa, but the ginseng ficus is part of the fig family, Moracaea.
In its natural form, the ginseng ficus provides a lot of shelter and shade in its native China, India, Sri Lanka, and other tropical parts of Asia and Australia. It can grow very large, and in some places, it’s considered a highly invasive plant.
When grown as a bonsai, it’s admired for its fleshy trunk with large roots, and glossy foliage. As a tropical plant, it needs to be grown indoors and requires some humidity.
Though it can withstand some cold, it’s not recommended keeping your ginseng ficus bonsai in colder temperatures, as this could stunt its growth or lead to disease.
You’ll also see it sold under the names Chinese banyan, Indian laurel fig, curtain fig, and laurel rubber.
Its most recognizable feature is the trunk, which can be bulbous and looks like a ginseng root.
It’s often grafted with Ficus retusa to produce a certain look, usually of larger roots as the main feature, and small leaves.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About the Ginseng Ficus Bonsai
In Hawaii, the largest known ficus microcarpa is Auntie Sarah’s Banyan, in the Menehune Botanical Gardens, which is 110 feet tall, and 250 feet across. Can you imagine?
Luckily, (or not, depending on your opinion), a bonsai version will reach about 10 inches high, and spread to 8 inches wide, but this depends on how you train it.
It needs full sunlight, and can flower during the winter months. Unless you live in a warm climate, you’ll need to grow this plant indoors.
It’s a fairly long-lived bonsai if looked after properly, reaching anywhere from 50 to 150 years old.
Growing a Ginseng Ficus Bonsai From Seed or By Propagation
The easiest way to grow a ginseng ficus bonsai is by taking cuttings from an existing plant in summer. Or, if you don’t fancy waiting that long, you can also air layer cuttings in the spring, or plant seeds.
How to Care For a Ginseng Ficus Bonsai
One of the easiest ways to keep your ginseng ficus bonsai healthy is to keep it in full sunlight. You can bring your bonsai outdoors in summer, so long as the temperature never dips below 60 °F.
It needs a consistent temperature in order to thrive, and as you can imagine, cold won’t do the plant any good at all. Indoors really is the best place for this particular bonsai.
Daily misting is recommended, so long as you place the plant somewhere well-ventilated to prevent disease taking hold.
This may also cut down on the watering needs, but you should always check the moisture level in the soil before you decide to water.
Don’t allow your ginseng ficus bonsai to dry out, but try not to drown it either. Depending on the heat levels of where you put this plant, every day or every other day will probably do.
You can fertilize a ginseng bonsai more regularly than other types. In summer, feed your bonsai every two weeks.
Scale this back to once a month in winter – and halt it altogether if the plant stops growing.
You can use any liquid feed, but organic fertilizer is best, as it prevents root burn.
You should repot your ginseng ficus bonsai every other year. Only do this in spring, when the plant can withstand the shock, and pot it into fresh bonsai soil.
How to Prune a Ginseng Ficus Bonsai
How to prune your ginseng ficus bonsai largely depends on the appearance you want it to have.
If you want to keep the leaves small, prune two off the plant after six or eight of them have grown. This defoliation will stop them from growing large, but it will also stop the trunk from thickening.
To ensure your ginseng ficus bonsai has the largest trunk possible, you can avoid pruning altogether.
Thin branches can be wired and shaped without much trouble, but you’ll have to keep an eye on the growth to make sure the wires don’t cut into the tree itself as it grows.
Pests and Diseases
Like most members of the fig family, the ginseng ficus bonsai is fairly resistant to both pests and diseases. Sadly, that doesn’t mean it’s completely immune.
Either can take hold, especially in the winter months, but growing your bonsai in its optimal conditions will help prevent this.
Air that is too dry, in a position without enough sun, invites disaster. It will lose all of its leaves if it goes on for long enough, and spider mites or scale may take hold.
If you don’t get adequate light in the winter, you can also use a grow light to provide the sunlight that the plant requires.
Avoid using pesticides where you can, as this can harm the plant and kill beneficial insects in the soil.
Where You Can Buy a Ginseng Ficus Bonsai
Ginseng ficus bonsai plants are readily available from plant nurseries, but you can also find them online.
You may have better luck getting a ginseng ficus bonsai from a specialist bonsai grower or nursery, as the young plants will have been well-looked after, and just as vitally, they will have been grown in the right soil.