How to care for the rare Ficus Altissima "Yellow Gem" plant

ficus altissima plant care

The sprightly “yellow gem” ficus is a variety of the ficus altissima. They were cultured quite recently so it's still quite difficult to find on the market.

The leaves of the original ficus altissima come in an even green color but the “yellow gem” has two-tone (variegated) leaves patterned in lime green and dark green.

The ficus altissima "yellow gem" variety is an easy way to add colour to your plant collection. @SteenaLeena https://twitter.com/SteenaLeena/status/1417347138854428672/photo/1

All ficus altissima grow in a vertical habit with ovate leaves just like the more common ficus elastica.

If you want to take on this unusual species, bear in mind that they are easy to cultivate as long as you stick to a regular care regimen. This plant is sensitive to neglect and sudden environmental changes. Read on for care tips. 

Introducing the ficus Altissima

Ficus altissima "yellow gem" (right) next to the variegated ficus elastic. @0kBloomer https://twitter.com/0kBloomer/status/1389708076857577483/photo/1

The ficus altissima belongs to the Ficus genus which contains around 1000 species. Many ornamental houseplants belong to this group, including ficus elastica and ficus benjamina (weeping fig). Ficus altissima has a few common names including yellow gem, lofty fig, false banyan, and council tree.

This species is highly adaptable. Its original habitats are the mountains and plains of Southern China where they grow at an elevation of between 100 to 2000 meters above sea level. They've traveled far and wide since, and are now labeled as an invasive species in many parts of the world. 

The ficus altissima is technically a tree. In the wild, it reaches 25 – 30 meters tall and 40-90 cm in diameter. Indoors and confined to a pot, however, your houseplant will not be reaching these lofty heights. At a maximum, the potted plants will grow to 1.82 meters.

Temperature, position, and lighting

 You'll know you're giving your yellow gem enough light if it maintains a pronounced colour contrast between the lighter and darker parts of the leaves.  KENPEI https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=Ficus+Altissima+&title=Special:MediaSearch&go=Go&type=image

The yellow gem thrives in bright indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight will scorch the leaves, but a low-light spot will make for an unhappy plant. West or east-facing windows are best while north and south-facing windows will be too dark and bright respectively.

If your plant is not getting enough sunlight, the two-tone colorway will fade.

Keep your plant away from drafts during the winter. In the summer, place it outdoors for optimal health.

Make sure the room is between 68 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Watering

Both dry and waterlogged soil will kill the plant. Never let the soil dry out completely. A good rule is to water every time the top 4 inches of the soil feel dry to touch. 

When you water, run the soil under a tap for 30 seconds. Then place the pot on a dry surface for half an hour so that any excess moisture drips out.

Remember to keep a regular watering routine as this plant is sensitive to neglect. This may be every couple of days in high summer and every week or two weeks in the winter - it all depends on your local climate.

Fertilizer 

Feed half-diluted general-purpose houseplant fertilizer once a month during spring and summer, cutting back to once every two months in the winter.

Humidity

This plant prefers relatively high humidity. Here are tips for keeping the air around your plant moist.

  1. Place a group of plants on a tray of pebbles with water halfway up the depth of the pebbles. Make sure the bottom of the pot doesn't touch the water as this will make the soil too soggy. The idea behind the pebble tray is that the pebbles give a larger surface area for water to evaporate off of. Grouping plants together also increases humidity in their immediate surroundings.
  1. Mist with a bottle spray several times a day. If you have a busy schedule and are likely to forget, opt for the pebble tray.
  1. Get a humidifier. This is one of the most effective ways of raising air humidity, especially if you have a large number of humid-loving plants indoors.

Potting mix

The potting mix should be full of nutrient-rich organic matter but it should not be so heavy that it retains all the moisture. Use one-part regular indoor houseplant soil mixed with one part perlite or coco coir for draining. You can even add a two-inch layer of coarse gravel to the bottom of the pot to aid drainage. This layer will remove any excess moisture from the potting mix above it.

Repotting

You should repot your Yellow Gem every year since it does not like being rootbound. The new pot should be about 2 to 3 inches wider than the diameter of the root ball to prevent root rot.

Repot during the active growth season in spring or early to mid-summer. During this period, the plant is growing vigorously enough that it will easily recover from any tissue damage suffered during the move. This is important for the yellow gem because it can react badly to sudden environmental changes.

Pruning

You only really need to prune your yellow gem when you want to limit growth. Apart from this, you can spruce up your plant by removing dead leaves. Don’t take more than 10 percent of healthy leaves when you prune. 

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