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Question about Ficus benjamina that slowly, painfully die

mmcintyr at bev.net mmcintyr at bev.net
Wed Apr 26 16:51:30 EST 1995

I've had two ficus benjamina...  let's see...  fifth declension neuter, so
the plural is the same as the singular, I think.  I took Latin so long ago it

In any event, whatever the proper plural...  I had two of them.  One was the
traditional "braided fig" variety where someone braided four trunks together
and slit them to make them fuse together.  That one was the first to go.

The other is a larger, more formed "tree" version with a single trunk.  About
eight feet tall.

It lived for a long time, but it is now showing the same signs that the other
one did while it was on its way out.  I think it's too late to do anything but
watch the inevitable death of my beautiful tree, but I'm posting this with hopes
that, if nothing else, I can find out what I did wrong and avoid it in the future.

I have a low-light environment supplemented by a bank of flourescent (sp?) 
grow lights directly above the tree, casting a pretty large amount of light.

Overwatering has been a problem, so I have been keeping watering to a bare
minimum.  All my plants are potted in a soilless peat-based mix with lots of
perlite thrown in, and they retain water TOO well, sometimes taking a month
or more to get dry to the touch, which is why I water sparingly.

The decay starts with one branch.  One day it is fine, the next the leaves all
droop and begin to fall off, but the branch dies before the leaves can all fall.

Both plants went through the usual shock period, and got over it for the most
part, so that the typical ficus leaf dropping was to a minimum after a few
weeks or so.  This is different.

The branch, after the leaves start to droop, gets a sort of bubbly wrinkled 
appearance and then dries up.

This process continues bit by bit, until the main trunk gets that wrinkled look,
and then the plant dies.  The big fig is currently getting a wrinkly trunk, even
though many shoots near the bottom of the plant look quite healthy still.

Also, when pruning branches that are dead or about to die, there is NO sap.
Usually pruning just a few loose ends of yields a copious flow of white
milky sap.  Not so anymore.  It's as if a tree vampire has drained it, though
I can find no evidence of fungus or insect infections, nor do the roots look

Since all else failed, I watered it very thoroughly.  It's probably going to die

Does anyone out there in plant land know what causes the bark to get that
wrinkled appearance and the sap to just go away?  It looks like the sign of
some sort of disease or something.

This environment is NOT the best for plants, but I really love this tree and 
hope to be able to save it.  About the only things I can grow here are dracaenas
and, strangely enough, my Shefflera arboricola is doing quite well.

I'm also giving growingi pygmy date palms (Phoenix roebelinii) another go, 
even though the first one died pretty abruptly.

I DID find evidence of spider mites on a Fatsia japonica, but I have never seen
even a hint of insect damage on any of my other plants.

Does anyone have any suggestions, or know where I might find a more 
comprehensive book about caring for ficus benjamina and related species?
The instructions in the typical houseplant books haven't offered any helpful

Thank you...  Please reply by e-mail, if you don't mind, as I rarely read this
  D. Michael McIntyre
                        mmcintyr at bev.net
 deltree f:\winsock...  Now I'm Warped!

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