The Ficus alii (Ficus maclellandii Alii) is most commonly known as the Banana Leaf Fig because of its long, narrow leaves. It is worth noting that some garden centers list the plant as the Ficus longifolia.
In case you were wondering, “alli” means King in Hawaiian which is where the plant was initially grown when it arrived in the states. Originally, it hails from Malaysia, India and a few other tropical countries in Asia.
It is likewise related to the very popular Fiddle Leaf Fig and Ficus Benjamina.. But, the Ficus alii is much easier to care for as a houseplant.
The plant is known for its large, dark green, shaggy leaves that come down on its sides. These can grow to between 3 and 10 inches long making them look like willows.
Because of its size (up to 10 feet high in containers), it makes for a great accent piece in living rooms and even patios.
Ficus Alii Plant Care
Ficus Alii Light
Ficus alii is one of the easier ficus plants to care for. One example is light.
It thrives in bright, indirect light. But, won’t have a problem with medium or low light. You do want to see how little light it can tolerate because depending on where you are in the country, low light may be more or less based on your location.
The reason I say this is it will grow slower past a certain light threshold. This means a smaller plant and leaves. And, it also takes longer for the foliage to form.
The one thing you want to keep it away from is extended periods of intense or direct sunlight. Like other figs, it won’t be able to take hours and hours of these conditions on a daily basis.
The good news is, it doesn’t mind being moved. So, unlike other ficus which can go into shock you can test different locations and see where it gets acclimated the best.
In general, it will do best in an east facing window as this gives it a lot of bright light. And, the morning sun is gentle enough that it can take direct sun here.
In western and southern exposures, you want to watch out for afternoon sun, which is the most intense of the day. To avoid this, you can distance the plant at least 3 to 6 feet from the window. Or, cover some of the light using sheer curtains to filter it.
Finally, be aware the Ficus alii grows towards the light. As such, it is a good idea to rotate it every few weeks. This will allow it to grow evenly on all sides in order to stay upright.
Another reason Ficus alii are easy to care for is that they do well indoors. This means they are happy with conditions that we humans are comfortable with.
So, you don’t have to change a lot in your home or lifestyle to accommodate it.
Ideally, you want to keep temperature between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. While the plant can survive conditions all the way down to 45 degrees, it is never a good idea to allow it to get that far.
That’s because by the time it reaches that cold temperature, it will already have sustained some stress and damage.
For the most part, you want to avoid climates that are below 55 degrees to keep it looking good.
Similarly, the plant prefers high humidity. But, it will do well with average household humidity.
This means that if you want it to grow at its best, keeping indoor humidity between 60% to 80% is best. This produces the fastest growth and the best colors from its foliage.
However, as long as humidity stays above 40%, your Ficus alii will grow properly.
The most important thing is to avoid dry conditions. Some areas have naturally low humidity running around the 30s. If this is the case, misting 2 to 3 times a week helps. You can also use a humidifier.
One final thing to keep in mind is that the plant does not like drafts or breezes, be it hot or cold. As such, keep it away from open windows where cold winds can suddenly give it a chill.
Ficus Alii Watering
The Ficus alii is not fussy about water either. But, one thing it won’t be able to take is too much or too frequent watering. Overwatering is by far the biggest no-no with this plant.
On the other hand, it is more forgiving when it comes to dryness. It won’t mind as much as long as you don’t let it go completely dry for extended periods.
That said, if you want to get the best results, giving it even and consistent moisture throughout its growing period is idea.
To do so, you want to water thoroughly. This allows water to reach its roots. Then, allow any excess liquid to completely drain. Make sure to dump any water that ends up on the saucer under the container.
When it comes to when to water, you want to wait until the top 2 or 3 inches of soil go dry. Doing so reduces the risk of watering too often. And, it does not allow all the soil to dry out ether.
Its water preference makes it a good candidate for self-watering containers. This also makes it easier for you if you’re busy or tend to forget.
Soil for Ficus Alii
The right soil is key in preventing overwatering. As such, it is very important that your Ficus alii lives in well-draining soil.
The good news is, the plant is not picky about soil as well. So, as long as you have good quality, light, well-aerated, fast-draining potting mix, you’re good.
The goal here is to allow moisture to reach its roots and hydrate the plant. This also lets it absorb nutrients from the soil and fertilizer.
But, it should not hold on to moisture for too long such that the plant’s roots end up sitting in waer.
Loose, airy soil also prevents compacting over time.
Ficus Alii Fertilizer
Ficus alii only need to be fed when they are actively growing. So during spring and summer, apply balanced houseplant fertilizer diluted to half its recommended strength once a month.
During the fall and winter, you don’t need to feed the plant.
One of the biggest difference in growing container plants as opposed to in the ground is soil. As such, if you use potting mix, you need to supply it with all the nutrients it needs to grow.
It is for this reason that many nurseries often mix fertilizer into the plant you buy from them. This means you want to know when that plant food runs out. In some cases, it takes a few weeks. Others last about a month or so. And, some will take 6 moths.
Knowing this will tell you when you have to supplement with fertilizer because the initial fertilizer has run out.
In contrast, garden soil will contain nutrients. How much will depend on how fertile the soil is. Unfortunately, garden soil is not the best option for houseplants because they can contain pests and diseases.
This is why most houseplants use soil-less potting mixes.
Another option you can take in place of fertilizer is to use compost with your potting mix. This is a better option because it releases nutrients at more deliberate pace. Just as importantly, if does not contain chemicals. So, there’s no risk of fertilizer burn.
The only drawback is it takes time to improve soil to the level where the plant is able to get sufficient nutrients from it.
Ficus alii will grow into big shaggy looking trees even indoors. Without pruning, they can reach 10 feet high which can be a problem with most homes.
As such, if you want to limit its size, you’ll need to control its container and prune as needed.
Additionally, the plant’s unique looking foliage can likewise get thick and dense. This may or may not be suited for the interior look you’re going do.
Here’s where pruning comes in.
The good news is, your Ficus alii is a slow grower. So, you have time to assess its appearance and decide how much and how often you want to trim. The goal of which is controlling size and appearance.
In addition to looks, it is also a good idea to remove any brown, yellow, damaged or deal foliage.
When trimming, do watch out for the milky sap that will ooze out of its wounds. This can irritate skin. So, it may be a good ideal to wear gloves.
Ficus Alii Propagation
Ficus alii can easily be propagated via branch cuttings. The process is fairly straightforward as long as you know what to look for.
Here’s how to propagate Ficus alii from cuttings.
- Take a branch. Often, you’ll be able to cut this up into smaller cuttings to grow more trees. So, it depends on you.
- Cut off sections of the branch so that each section is about 4 to 6 inches long. But, make sure that each segment has at least 2 or 3 leaves on it. Each of these cuttings can be grown into a new plant.
- Dip the cut end (with leaves on the other end) into rooting hormone.
- The plant each cutting into its own 6×6 inch container.
- Cover each container with aplastic bag to increase humidity.
- If you want to grow many of them at once, grab a big polyurethane bag and place all the small containers in there. Then, tie up the bag.
- In about 2 to 3 weeks, roots will begin to form. You can check by taking the root ball out of the container. You should see a few small white roots at the bottom.
Ficus Alii Transplanting & Repotting
Repot your Ficus alii once every 2 to 3 years. In some cases, you’ll be able to get away with 4 years as well. It all depends on how fast it grows.
Here time is less important compared to how the plant is doing. This means that you’re better off looking at he plant to see if it has outgrown its current living space.
Often, a good sign of this is if tis roots start peeking out of the drainage holes. Similarly, it will experience stress if its stays in too tight quarters.
This can lead to slugging growth and dropping leaves.
The milky sap of Ficus alii are toxic. It can cause skin irritation and is poisonous when ingested. So, while the plant itself poses no danger to humans and animals, its sap does.
As a precaution keep it away from kids, cats and dogs.
Pests and Diseases
Pests and Diseases are very bothersome to any home grower. But, they have to be dealt with. Otherwise, the months and years of work to growing your plant could quickly go to waste.
When it comes to pests, mealybugs, scale and whiteflies are common problems.
As such, be on the lookout for them.
Diseases can also be an issue. Here, root rot and Botrytis are your enemies.
With the former, avoiding overwatering is the most effective mode of prevention. On the other hand, the latter happens when foliage gets wet and doesn’t dry quickly. As such, good air circulation is key.