Plants in the ficus genus are notable for their darkly colored fig fruits, which are commonly eaten by wildlife and humans alike. Ficus plants are also grown both indoors and outdoors for their ornamental value, and tree species like the sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus) may grow to be over 60 feet tall. Like any garden plant, the ficus attracts a number of insects and pests, which may sometimes become a problem for the gardener.
Cuban Laurel Thrips
Cuban laurel thrips have a particular taste for ficus plants and gain their common name from their aggressive pursuit of one species of ficus. These tiny black bugs prefer to feed exclusively on Cuban laurel plants (Ficus retusa), although they will also attack other ficus species. Cuban laurel thrips may appear as small white eggs, immature yellowish bugs or full-grown black bugs, depending on the stage of their development. Cuban laurel thrips feed on the new, tender foliage of growing ficus plants.
Other pests that prey on the ficus include scale, spider mites, mealy bugs and root knot nematodes. Scale, spider mites and mealy bugs are particularly common on indoor plants and plague many other species of plants besides figs. Scale appears as sticky white patches, while spider mites are tiny and red. Mealy bugs are easy to identify, as these white, oval bugs often have a long trailing tail and wispy-looking side protrusions that resemble legs.
Although few insect infestations will cause the death of the plant, they do lessen the ornamental appeal of the ficus by damaging leaves and new growth. Insect infestations reduce the overall health of the plant, which can lead to further health complications. Thrips cause purplish black spots, as well as curling leaves that eventually turn yellow and brown. Both scale and mealy bugs may cause leaf discoloration, which ultimately leads to leaves dropping off and wilting.
Thrips can often be removed simply by pruning away growth. As thrips only eat new leaves, they have a limited supply of food from which to draw and will be forced to move on if these leaves are taken away. A mild infestation of scale and spider mites can often be taken care of with a light dabbing of rubbing alcohol or a solution of diluted soapy water. Insecticides should be used as a last resort, especially indoors, where the fumes may remain.
Like people, plants are much less likely to get sick if their immune system is strong. Keeping your ficus plant healthy is the best defense against invading pests and insects. Be sure to follow the care requirements of your specific cultivar, and give indoor plants plenty of light and water, especially during the growing season. Pest prevention can be done easily by doing small things like mixing in seaweed, a natural slug repellent and a rich source of nutrients, with mulch or fertilizer.