08 May, 2014

WTH Wednesdays: Ficus pukus

First in an occasional series of 'What The Horticulture' Wednesdays!  

This tree has been butchered!  Even though this is a type of tree will regrow after this kind of mauling, it needs to be pointed out that this is not a way to prune a tree!  

This is a mature Ficus benjamina, students of mine get equal credit for using my pejorative, Ficus pukus, what a friend calls 'fauxtanical Latin.'  It is frequently used as a street tree in Los Angeles as well as being the ubiquitous tree in a container on someone's otherwise bare balcony.  It will grow under the most heinous of conditions and suffer abuse with aplomb and still look like something alive.  This particular tree receives this kind of treatment every two or three years.  It is certainly not a specimen of a healthy tree, but it struggles on.

In this closer photo, you can see the chainsaw has cut away portions of bark and cambium. These wounds do not heal and are entry points for disease and insects.  This tree, even though it is resilient in the face of this torture, will not live long.  You can see more abuse in the way the roots are above the surface (photo above) where they are regularly mowed.  They are also crossing and as they grow, some roots may wrap around other roots and kill them.  

In any event, F. bejamina is a water sucker and if given half a chance will invade plumbing to get the water it desires.  This type of tree can look decent - there is one next door to this one that is much better maintained, but it too will, sooner or later with better odds than the lottery, invade pipes looking for more water.  

There are many, much better species to plant in our drought prone California gardens. Still, on my block this is the most often planted tree. I would hold that the homeowner says they desire a certain look and leave it to the gardeners to choose what is grown and the gardeners choose the easiest thing to prune.  Most people also specify 'fast growing' which is merely a synonym for 'high maintenance.' 

A lot of lessons from one poorly pruned tree.  We can do better than this, in tree selection and tree maintenance.


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