Ficus trees are a large group, with up to 1,000 species, according to Purdue University. Also called fig trees, these species range widely in appearance from the giant, tropical rubber tree to the creeping fig vine. Some bear edible fruit, while others do not. The most popular ficus varieties are commonly grown as houseplants, in part due to their need of consistently warm temperatures.
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
This tree has a large, spreading canopy that can be as wide as 70 feet, according to the University of Florida. The tree itself can reach heights of 60 feet in the wild. In home landscapes and indoors, it remains much smaller. F. benjamia has branches that drip gracefully to the ground and dark, shiny green leaves. There is a cultivar of this tree that has variegated leaves. The weeping fig tolerates sunny or shady conditions, but likes moist soil and consistently warm temperatures with no hot or cold drafts. If moved, it may respond by shedding its leaves. This is a temporary response to environmental change and does not signify that the tree has died.
Rubber Tree (Ficus elastica)
This tree is also commonly grown as a houseplant. In the wild, F. elastica can reach 100 feet, but it is much smaller in home gardens. The rubber tree has attractive, slender leaves and a pleasingly rounded canopy. Its dense form makes this tree an excellent screening plant, according to the University of Florida. Indoors, the tree should be dusted often, as the thick leaves can attract dust, which attracts spider mites. F. elastica can tolerate a wide range of soil types and prefers bright but indirect light and cool, moist soil.
Cuban-Laurel (Ficus retusa)
Ficus retusa is one of the fastest-growing ficus varieties, according to the University of Florida. This tree can reach a maximum height of 50 feet with a canopy width of an equal size. The dark green (almost black) leaves are attractive, but tend to be infested with insect pests. New leaves, which are produced year-round, are light pink and look very attractive next to the darker, mature leaves. F. retusa is not usually grown indoors, but it makes an excellent street or park tree.
Alii (Ficus maclellandii)
This ficus does not resemble most others of the species. The leaves are very narrow and long. They spring from the top of the branches in a fountain-like effect. In fact, the tree looks more like bamboo, according to the University of Minnesota. This tree looks best when grown outdoors and allowed to grow to a medium size (around 25 feet). F. maclellandii will grow in full sun or part shade and prefers cool, moist soil.