Few tropical trees have created confusion as much as the Indian laurel fig tree. Even its classification has changed over the years. It was first classified as Ficus nitida, but that classification changed, and now it is listed as Ficus microcarpa.
So what’s the deal with this tree, and why does so much mystery surround it?
What is an Indian laurel fig? The Indian laurel fig is an evergreen tropical tree with high ornamental value. It goes by many other names such as Chinese banyan or curtain fig. It’s usually grown as a shade tree thanks to its wide canopy 80 feet across and 50 feet high. It grows best in Zones 9 to 12.
If you’re considering growing the Indian laurel fig, this comprehensive guide will walk you through the different steps of growing and caring for this wonderful tree.
Indian Laurel Fig Appearance
The average height and spread of the Indian laurel fig depend on the growing conditions. In tropical climates, it will grow to 50 feet or more and spread 80 feet across.
In more moderate climates, such as the Mediterranean regions, it will reach a maximum of 40 feet tall and wide at best.
When mature, the tree will have a sprawling canopy that provides shade. Its leaves are green and glossy. Each leaf is about 2.5 inches long with a tapering end.
In the winter, small flowers open among the leaves. After pollination, the flowers turn into small fruits. In the spring, the fruits, which look like miniature figs, turn light brown when ripe and are packed with seeds. No part of the tree is edible.
Are Indian Laurel Figs Evergreen?
Indian laurel figs are evergreen tropical trees. They don’t shed their leaves in the winter, nor do they change color between the seasons. In tropical regions, the trees continue to provide ample shade all year round.
What Is an Indian Laurel Fig Good For?
The Indian laurel fig is a great shade tree. Because it’s evergreen, it also adds a green color to the garden in the winter long after all other trees and plants have become dormant.
For this reason, many people grow it as a screening hedge tree. It’s ideal for providing privacy to the property.
Because of its fast growth rate, you can use it to cover walls and fences and hide unsightly parts in the garden. In Southern California, the Indian laurel is planted in the streets and along formal hedges.
Indian Laurel Fig Growing Conditions
As a tropical tree, the Indian laurel fig prefers growing conditions similar to the ones found in its natural habitat in Southern China, Taiwan, and Northern Australia.
The Indian laurel fig grows best in Zones 9 to 12. It favors high temperature and humidity levels.
The tree needs between 6 to 8 hours of full sun every day all year round. It can tolerate partial shade, but full shade can impact its growth and cause damage to its lush canopy.
Choose a spot facing west or south to make sure the tree gets the most out of the sunlight all day long.
Sandy or loamy soil is the best option for the Indian laurel fig. Amend the soil in the garden with coarse sand to improve water drainage and aeration.
Turn up the top 12 inches of the soil, and add organic material before planting the tree. Test the soil pH (this tester also measures light and moisture levels), and bring it within the right range of 5.5 to 7.5.
The water requirements of the Indian laurel fig vary based on the seasons. During the growing season, the tree will need about 1 inch of water a week. You can water it once or twice a week as long as you don’t exceed this water quota.
Check the top 3 inches of the soil before watering. In the winter, cut back watering to once every 10 to 14 days.
The Indian laurel fig doesn’t need much fertilization as long as it’s growing in rich soil. The tree has a robust root system that goes deep and wide in search of nutrients in the soil.
You can apply a mild and balanced fertilizer about 2 to 3 times a year starting in the spring and ending in the summer (this one is ideal).
For potted trees where the soil nutrition gets depleted quickly, apply the fertilizer once every 6 weeks.
Indian Laurel Growth Rate
One of the appealing qualities of Indian laurel fig trees is that they have a fast growth rate. This is one of the reasons they do well as screening hedge trees.
Within a few years, the tree will have covered an ugly wall or fence and provided privacy to the property.
How Fast Do Indian Laurel Figs Grow?
In the right conditions, the Indian laurel fig trees will grow about 24 inches every year.
How Big Do Indian Laurels Get?
In tropical climates, the average tree can reach 50 feet tall and 80 feet wide. In moderate climates, the tree may average 40 feet tall and the same in width. Some trees can reach 100 feet tall, but that’s rare.
Does Indian Laurel Have Invasive Roots?
The tree has a robust root system that spreads horizontally and vertically. With its fast growth rate, the root system has to keep up, and it spreads out in search of moisture and nutrients.
This can cause a lot of damage to buildings, walls, fences, and underground pipes, not to mention damage to other plants in its vicinity. For this reason, the Indian laurel fig is considered an invasive species both in Florida and Hawaii.
Is Indian Laurel Poisonous?
Although no part of the Indian laurel fig is toxic to humans, animals such as dogs, cats, and horses might get poisoning symptoms if they ingest the leaves or branches of the tree.
The symptoms include vomiting, drooling, nausea, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. Take the affected animal to the vet right away for medical help.
Can You Eat Indian Laurel Figs?
Despite their name and the resemblance to figs, the fruits of the Indian laurel fig are not edible. Moreover, you should keep any pets from the tree since the sap in the leaves and branches is toxic to animals.
Only birds seem immune to the toxicity of the tree, and they devour the fruits as soon as they ripen.
Indian Laurel Columns
Indian laurel figs can be planted in containers or in the ground to form long columns. They provide privacy and act as windbreakers as well.
Each tree in the column will grow to about 20 feet tall and needs between 4 and 10 feet of space.
Indian Laurel Hedge Spacing
If you’re planting the Indian laurel as hedge trees, space them about 2 to 3 feet apart at most. This allows the trees to form a dense hedge together.
Indian Laurel in Pots
You can grow Indian Laurel fig trees in containers. Use any potted mix that drains well, and mix it with plenty of organic materials.
Water the tree twice a week during the spring and summer, and cut back on watering during the fall and winter. Apply a mild fertilizer once every six weeks.
Because of the fast growth rate of both the tree and its root system, you’ll need to repot it regularly every one or two years.
Growing Indian Laurel Fig Indoors
If you grow an Indian laurel fig indoors, make sure the tree gets between 6 and 8 hours of sunlight throughout the year.
Water it regularly once the top 1 inch of the soil dries out. Water lightly to keep the soil moist. Apply a mild and balanced fertilizer routinely.
How Do You Prune Indian Laurel?
The best time to trim the Indian laurel is in the early spring. Right after the tree comes out of dormancy and before new growth emerges, trim off all dead branches.
You can also make paths into the canopy to improve the airflow and sun exposure. Don’t cut back more than 10 percent of the canopy at one time to avoid stressing the tree.
Indian Laurel Fig Bonsai
To grow the Indian laurel fig as bonsai, you’ll need to water it regularly with soft water. Don’t expose it to cold temperatures as this might affect the health and colors of the foliage.
The tree has a high tolerance for drought but doesn’t handle overwatering well.
Indian Laurel Fig Tree Problems
The most common problem you’ll have with the Indian laurel fig is sooty canker. This is a fungal disease that starts on the branches and covers the tree with black residue.
As the fungus spreads, the branches will die, and eventually, the tree will die as well.
The Indian laurel fig is an evergreen tropical tree native to Taiwan, Australia, and China. It’s an ornamental tree with a fast growth rate, but it’s considered an invasive tree in Florida and Hawaii.