Ficus as Bonsai – Part 2 (Ficus Rubiginosa )

By June 13, 2017 No Comments

Ficus Rubiginosa (Australis)

In nature, Ficus Rubiginosa var: Australis species can grow to a large tree up to 30 meters in height, with large broad leaves.  This species has the ability to reduce its leaf size, making it ideal as one of the Ficus species that can be trained as bonsai.  Another positive factor that encourage new comers and professionals alike to trained this species as a bonsai tree is that it can easily produce aerial roots, resulting with an interesting character and trunk structure.  As the name implies, this species is native to Australia.

Ficus Rubiginosa var: Australis before defoliation
 It was not my intention to include today’s blog in the Ficus as Bonsai series, but after a while, since we will be discussing about Ficus species, then I decided that it is right to add this to the series.  Although not very popular with bonsai artists, I decided to include it to my collection for their interesting trunk character.  Two years ago, while visiting one of the local nurseries, I found two interesting trunks, that had an old age look and a good number of nice aerial roots.  The only problem was that the leaves were very big.  The favorable thing was that they were sold very cheap:  €25 each.  My first idea was to draft another ficus species to it, while maintaining the interesting trunk.
Ficus species do permit harsh pruning, so that was the first thing I did, by giving the tree a drastic pruning, eliminating long and straight branches and branches that were not suitable for my design.  I picked one of them, the tree with an interesting twin trunk, and repotted it to a shallow pot.  To do so, I had to get rid of a good amount of fine roots.  By then, I did not do any research on this species, but treated them as my previous ficus species.  I was right, but what I did not know was that this species is a slow grower, and it takes more time to thicken the branches.


The trunk has a grey color with tiny short vertical white lines similar to the Ficus Microphila var: Tigerbark.  The aerial roots coming out of the trunk sides, makes the tree more interesting.  Although my pre bonsai has a straight trunk, I still see that I can make an interesting one by doing some dead wood while that will compliment the natural deadwood.  By time, some branches will will cover the visibility of the straight trunk.

New Buds

After a while, I started to see new buddings, and that proved to me that I was right in my decision, to do the drastic pruning.  But I found that I was mistaken not to repot the tree in mid-August or in January.  The twin trunk tree was showing fewer and weaker new buds.  I tried to keep it alive, but I did not managed to do so.  Re-potting and drastic pruning was to much for this poor tree, and I lost an opportunity to have a nice twin trunk bonsai.  A lesson that cost me €25 to learn.  Luckily for me that I did not repot the two of them, so I still had one left.  I kept this Ficus in an open area, under a good sunlight.  Water this tree regularly.

Leaf Structure

The leaf of Ficus Rubiginosa variata Australis have an oval shape with glossy  dark green color. Leaves in nature can grow up to 19cm in length.  The new leaves were smaller than the previous leaves I bought the tree with.  This encouraged me to do some research, and although I only found few information about this species, one thing I confirmed was that this species has the ability to reduce the leaf size.  So I was on the right track, and by reasoning and treating this Australis species as species in the ficus family, I managed to reduce the leaf size.  I have a long way to go, until I maintain the desired size.
Reduced size of the leaves
By another coincidence, recently, I also found that by reducing feeding and with less water, the tree will not push energy to the leaves, keeping them small.  I noticed this on a ficus Benjamina, that was left in long grass, which I forgot all about it.  It was only watered by rain water.  Now that the grass had dried out, I noticed that new smaller leaves has emerged, and I concluded that if I restrict when watering the Ficus Australis, I will have more chances to have smaller leaves that the ones I just pruned.
This species produces small round yellow fruit which turns red when ripen. In nature, this fruit forms part of some bird species such as parrots and pigeons. It is native of the East Australian coast from which the name was derived.  While at my bonsai garden, I never seen fruits on my species.

The fruit of the Ficus Rubiginosa var: Australis


Last Monday, exactly on the 12th of June, I dedicated some time to my Ficus Rubiginaos var: Australis.  I decided to defoliate the pre bonsai completely.  I did this defoliation to open the tree encouraging new growth, while having a clear view of all the branches.  Learning from my previous experiences, I decided not to remove any of the branches.  I will do that once new buds will emerge and see how the tree will respond when pushing new buds.
Ficus Rubiginosa var: Australis after defoliation
I already indicated that this species is a slow grower, and this is visible from the thin branches.  This will not show once leaves grow back, since the leaves will create a good foliage.
Will keep you updated


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Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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