Ficus is a large genus of plants native to the tropics of the world. This genus is incredibly diverse, with a wide range of representatives from the edible and beloved common fig to the decorative weeping fig, also known as a Benjamin fig. This genus has tremendous commercial value, thanks to the assortment of uses to which its representatives can be put, and it is also valued culturally in many regions of the world, with figs playing a role in mythology and history in the tropic and temperate regions of the world.
Because this genus is very diverse, it's difficult to make generalizations about figs. Figs can be shrubs, bushes, or vines, with simple to lobate leaves. Many produce aerial roots, which can be used as an identifying feature, and they also have distinctive fruits known as figs. Depending on the species, the fruits may be edible, with figs being cultivated throughout the Middle East for consumption.
Some well-known representatives of the ficus genus include the common fig, sacred fig, banyan tree, and weeping fig. Common figs come in a number of cultivars developed to meet various needs and tastes, from tiny tart green figs to large, soft Mission figs which are so dark that they are almost black. The sacred fig is important to followers of some Asian religions including Buddhism, with specimens being preserved in many Asian communities for people who wish to meditate near a sacred fig.
Weeping figs are commonly kept as houseplants in many regions of the world, and in some places, when people say “ficus,” people think not of the fig genus, but of the weeping fig. This plant can be trained to grow as a small tree, and it is infamous for its indestructibility and relatively boring appearance. In fact, weeping figs can be quite pretty, especially when shaped and trained, and they are not indestructible.
A ficus plant likes lots of bright indirect light, and an area free of cool drafts. These plants are highly susceptible to root rot, and they need to be planted with a layer of gravel or rock to promote drainage. Many people also overwater their ficus plants, causing the leaves to yellow and drop off. These plants like to be watered when the soil is dry, and it's a good idea to stick a finger into the soil to confirm that it really is dry underneath, not just dried out on the surface.