Rare plant of the month – February 2019

Ficus pumila ‘Minima’

Plants often pass through nurseries and gardens, promoted by experienced and respected plantsmen – loved for a while then are left behind. These are the plants both species and cultivars that we seek to find, protect and pass on through the Plant Guardian scheme.

One such plant appears to be Ficus pumila ‘Minima’ – but could it perhaps be a plant of new times with the resurgence in popularity for houseplants?

Ficus pumila 'Minima'
Ficus pumila ‘Minima’

A small leaved, miniature type of the more common Ficus pumila, (the creeping or climbing fig), it was given to Edna Squires when she ran her nursery at Feebers, Devon by plantsman Bob Straughan from his specialist alpine nursery.  A promise lightly given to look after this plant, with its heart shaped leaves, has never left Edna, who writes: ‘‘Whilst it is always good to have and propagate a plant that qualifies for guardianship there is always that “what if it dies on me?” feeling ‘’.

Edna and Mike Squires – Plant Guardians from the start of the scheme and still actively supporting it, grow rare and unusual plants, always sharing them through plant sales and the Plant Exchange run annually by Plant Heritage.

Edna’s story of Ficus pumila ‘Minima’ continues:

”A lot of the plants that we have here came from older gardeners thirty odd years ago and one such which still qualifies for guardianship is Ficus pumila ‘Minima’.  Whilst Ficus pumila is available to buy, there is no listing for F.p. ‘Minima’ despite my having put plants into the National Plant Exchange each year for many years.

Ficus pumila minima
Ficus pumila ‘Minima’ with its Plant Guardian label, sitting on Edna’s windowsill

The plant came to us from Bob Straughan, an outstanding plantsman and propagator who then had a small nursery in Belper, Derbyshire – he died some years ago and the nursery is now a housing estate.   We always dropped in to see what he had on offer once a year and usually he gave me a plant and said “look after it”.   With the Ficus he explained that it is not difficult to propagate (you simply pin down an outrider, keep it watered and snip off when rooted). The difficulty comes in supplying the right conditions which is frost free and shade, when it will thrive and try to climb the wall (which it is doing on my kitchen windowsill at the moment).

The leaves are small and very thin, therefore dry out and scorch if in sunshine.  Given the right spot it will romp away – the best I have seen was covering a shady wall of the sunken greenhouse in Belfast Parks Department.

When I had a nursery I always listed this plant and one day had a phone call from Roy Lancaster – he was soon to visit a German gardener and had asked what plants he could take over for him.  The answer was this Ficus and so off one went.

Thirty years on from acquiring F.p. ‘Minima’, the plant is still rare and I hope that someone will keep it going when I am no longer around.”

The species, Ficus pumila stretches from eastern Asia to Vietnam, and since being introduced to eastern Australia, is has become common. However, this little cultivar ‘Minima’ appears very rarely. Following an online search, it also seems to be mostly unavailable at nurseries that supplied it in Australia and New Zealand.

This delicate plant has reappeared exactly at the moment when many people are starting again to keep house plants, planting in terrariums and discovering how to ‘green their grey spaces’. Perhaps F.p. ‘Minima’  – a climber when allowed, is about to come into its own?

If you think you may have the correct conditions (indoors or out) let us know, Edna will be glad to send a plant to you.  contact us here

Edna and Mike Squires are long standing members of the Devon Group, Plant Heritage. Our thanks to Edna for her plant story.