Ficus ginseng has conquered our plant trade, and we can’t get past it anymore. A constant temptation for bonsai lovers, as well as constantly disturbed by strange rumours that Ficus Ginseng is “not a real bonsai”. The article explains about the Ficus Ginseng and the surprising possibilities of its care.

The Ficus Ginseng is mainly sold in a form that does not necessarily correspond to its true nature. It doesn’t matter, even a Ficus Ginseng in the currently typical sales shape is a beautiful plant on which you can practice bonsai care, for example. But the Ficus Ginseng gives even more, you can also grow it as a normal houseplant, for both follows the care instructions and tips below to avoid mistakes.

If you currently find a Ficus Ginseng somewhere, it is usually a tree with a knobbly root, which is grown as bonsai or at least sold.

Ficus ginseng are sold as bonsai in discount stores and furniture stores for a few euros, mostly in tastefully dubious ceramics; and also many bonsai dealers want to earn from them, after all, the Japanese word bonsai literally translated “planting in the shell”, a bonsai is a tree in a pot.

If you enter Ficus Ginseng into a search engine, you will get around 200,000 entries, which are mainly about how best to maintain and cut this Ficus Ginseng, sold as bonsai, and perhaps even wire it.

The trade must know – the Ficus Ginseng is a bonsai?

If you read about it in bonsai forums, there is hardly as much discussion about another tree as about the Ficus Ginseng.

But Ficus is called fig, and figs are ornamental or useful plants – from the good old rubber tree (Ficus elastica) to the good old birch fig (Ficus benjamina) to the real fig tree (Ficus carica) – always quite large and rather fast growing and therefore not predestined for bonsai at all?

The “Plant List”, probably the most complete international plant catalogue in the world at the moment, is the result of a collaboration between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Missouri Botanical Garden since 2010. In the meantime, the “Plant List” has been expanded to over 350,000 identified plant species, but a Ficus Ginseng is not included, not even among the nearly 1,300,000 synonyms and unrecognised names.

However, The Plant List contains only species and no cultivars, and this is where the secret lies. Sometimes the Ficus Ginseng also has a real name, Ficus microcarpa, the Chinese fig.

Or several real names, the Ficus microcarpa is a subspecies of the Ficus retusa after the first name Linné, other authors classify the retusa as a younger synonym.

Chinese fig or
Bay laurel fig or
Indian Bay Leaf
In English, it’s called:

Chinese Banyan
Malayan Banyan
Taiwan Banyan
Indian Laurel
Curtain fig or
retusa Cuban Laurel
Then it goes back to Linné and the microcarpa is a retusa variety, which is also called “Ficus retusa var. nitida King” (again only one of 32 synonyms) or Banyan fig or GINSENG fig hot … Take a breath, full broadside fig chaos, buy this plant under any name if you do not want to write a doctoral thesis on the nomenclature in biology.

Only one thing is for sure now, it is not a bonsai, but a mighty tree with growth heights up to 30 meters (for comparison: 1,000-year-old oaks by 15 m), with trunk diameters of up to 50 cm and an expansively broad crown.

In the furniture store there is also a “real” Ficus microcarpa, but only an almost real one of a mini cultivar called ‘Moclame’.

The history of Ficus Ginseng
One of the first sightings from the Houseplantguru ( was on 3.8.2014 on a trade show of the green plant industry in Columbus, OH, USA.

The Flower Council of Holland, the marketing and communication specialists of the producers of “FloraHolland”, then introduced the Ficus Ginseng to us and made it the houseplant of the month in July 2015, of course in the shrunken versions, what would you do with a tree in your living room that wants to be almost twice as tall as an oak?

One shrink version, the bonsai, has been around for a long time. The Ficus microcarpa tends to form aerial roots and these have been cultivated in China and Malaysia for centuries as special root bonsai, ginseng is Chinese for “root”. After years of patient care, a bizarre root stump is formed, onto which a tiny, small-leaved ficus is grafted.

The Dutch producers import tuberous aerial roots that have been artificially cultivated, cut and planted in pots on large farms (rather than in years of formation) in Taiwan. Then we wait until a few shoots form around the interface, and the con man is ready, who looks like a bonsai to (short-sighted) laymen.

How long the Dutch producers take time to “continue the culture until it is ready for sale” (quote press release, we can only guess, at prices between 5,- and 10,- € but certainly not too long.

If you buy a Ficus Ginseng with shaped root, you buy the aerial roots of a normal fig tree with a few leaves on it (own leaves, but also grafted Ficus Ginseng should have been sighted already).

Apart from the not very real bonsai promise behind it, this is not a bad thing, figs are great plants, and with a Ficus retusa microcarpa you have at least several possibilities of cultivation.

Care instructions as “Bonsai
You have bought a bonsai and now you want to cultivate a bonsai?

You can do that with a Ficus Ginseng. You should only be aware that it is difficult to make it into a “real bonsai” (if you can’t look back on a few centuries of bonsai-experienced Asian ancestors and are still very young).

However, you can use the fake bonsai for practicing, because the “bonsai = tree in a pot” already has a bit to offer: “Bonsai is” to bring a tree into a special growth form and to force it into miniature growth, and this always works by the same external influence or by the same influence on the plant metabolism.

Apart from the fact that they grow much too fast for real art forms, the Fici microcarpa have good properties for bonsai design:

They grow well (which means that they simply grow continuously regardless of their speed).
The leaves are not very big from the start
Like any fig, they are very well tolerated for cutting
In the first 1 to 2 years you can practice wire cutting on the branches, you can try out cutting techniques and other techniques, you can train bonsai repotting and all that on a tree for little money, which in case of doubt will sprout again and again.

These are the characteristics of the Bonsai care of a Ficus Ginseng:

  • You cannot wire the already existing shoots very long, shorter than with other species.If the leaves are to remain small, the ficus must be trimmed VERY regularly.
  • But it is so well tolerated that you can simply cut away unexpected giant growth.
  • You can continue working on the trunk thickening
  • In addition, let the shoots grow until the branch has the desired thickness.
  • The leaves stay on, with leaves and their photosynthesis the branch gets thicker faster.
  • You can accelerate this by fertilizing even more
  • You can even work the roots mechanically
  • For example, hollowing out or milling away part of the bulky root, i.e. “designing aerial roots”.
  • But only when the rest grows strong and beautiful.
  • You can also wrap the thick roots in damp cloths and keep them permanently moist.
  • Up to subtropical conditions, warm and humid, the most beautiful aerial roots should form in the discarded aquarium.
  • You can then shape the new root cuttings from the trunk as you wish.
  • At some point the strange tuber is hardly noticed anymore.
  • The cut at the aerial roots is mostly ugly.
  • You can choose one or more branches for the new tree top and let them grow in such a way that they overturn the cut.
  • So enlarge and educate the crown so that it covers the interface at some point.
  • Because of a certain braking effect on the growth strength, a Ficus Ginseng should not be kept in potting soil, but in bonsai substrate.
  • With regard to the growth strength you should always let new shoots grow first.
    only cut back after a while
  • The basic care depends on the needs of a normal Ficus microcarpa
  • Room temperature, between 17 and 25 degrees centigrade
  • But a summer stay outdoors is also good for a ficus ginseng.
  • Also “bonsaitechnisch”, the leaves are usually smaller in direct sunlight than with room-attitude
  • If you win cuttings by pruning, you should bring the good bonsai talent with you.
  • However, according to bonsai experts, there are more rewarding trees if you want to create bonsais, unless you enjoy experimenting.

The Maxi Bonsai has it in him

The figs, known to us rather as snotty dried fruit, are by no means as harmless as they do.

Several Ficus species are known as “strangler figs”. Their seeds are eaten by birds and excreted on branches, where they stick with their slimy seed coat and germinate. First they grow quite well as epiphytes (“Aufsitzer”) on the host plants, while the aerial roots (!) stretch to the ground. Once rooted in the soil, growth and aerial root formation only really start, the host will regrow and eventually die. When it has been “digested” by the strangler fig (which absorbs the nutrients released during its decomposition).

Which figs have exactly the “talent for strangling” has not yet been researched in detail. But figs, which like Ficus microcarpa like to form aerial roots, are from the outset heavily in suspicion and the Banyan fig (Ficus benghalensis), also sometimes classified as Ficus Ginseng, is in any case with it …

When the aerial roots meet when a host plant grows, they grow together. This “urge to unite” should be inherent in all parts of a strangler fig: Roots, trunks and branches grow together when they touch (under pressure). This can lead to obscure structures.

Another direction in which the figs are “not as harmless as they do” is of interest to people who react quickly to allergies. Among the plant substances in the ficus are several irritating substances (for more details, see the article on Ficus benjamina, our popular birch fig).

In any case, you should quickly find a thankful buyer if your new plant makes you feel strange or your skin shows any reactions. And when cutting yourself and protect the carpet, the sap dries to disgusting stains.

Care instructions as “Ficus microcarpa
This whole true figure of Ficus Ginseng treated in such detail above was not treated in such detail for nothing, but helps you to understand that you can also treat this Ficus Ginseng microcarpa quite differently.

As I said, the Ficus Ginseng is in its core a normal Chinese fig, and if you are not constantly with the scissors afterwards, this fig will anyway sometime “run away”.

You can allow, promote, use and let your Chinese fig grow into a large ficus. It is cared for like every ficus:

  • Normal, nutrient-rich soil (possibly stretched with sand for better drainage).
  • As much light as possible, a Ficus Ginseng comes from tropical regions and is accustomed to 12 hours of daylight.
  • Bright location where the ficus is not exposed to direct sunlight or draughts.
    room temperatures (everything between 18 and 22 degrees) are quite good
  • In summer the Ficus Ginseng likes to stand outside
  • Gently get used to full sun, even plants get sunburned
  • From an average temperature of 15 °C (also at night) the Ficus Ginseng can be placed on the balcony.
  • If it grows quickly, repot it once a year (best in spring, when it is ready for growth anyway and quickly forms new roots).

Watering, fertilizing

  • Watch out when it comes to water: Too much causes the roots to rot, too little leads to leaves being thrown off.
  • The best time to water is when the top layer of earth has just dried slightly.
  • If your water is hard, with collected rainwater or tap water that has been allowed to stick out a little bit
  • Spraying with lime-free water is always good
  • (Liquid) fertilizers are available during the growing season, approximately every two weeks according to the package instructions.
  • You can cut them, but you don’t have to cut them.
  • If you have space, you can also simply let the Ficus grow, the cultivars are 2 m high.
    Thinning, shortening, forming is of course possible without criticism, the ficus can also be cut back into the old wood.
  • Avoid mistakes
  • You can’t make so many mistakes with a ficus. Often the supposed care error is simply nature:
  • A Ficus ginseng comes from the tropics, it gets many hours of daylight every day.
    Not with us, especially in winter.
  • Even evergreen leaves do not live forever, and the superfluous/too old leaves are thrown off in winter.

Otherwise check: Leaf loss can also be caused by too much or too little watering or fertilizing.
Or from cold (from below), draught, too little soil in the pot (repot every 2, 3 years)
Or of pests, when the leaves show dots/stains, mostly spider mites or thrips are in the way


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