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Society & Success

The New Trendy Houseplant

Benard Mutethia sells fiddle-leaf figs on Jamhuri Road, Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG
Benard Mutethia sells fiddle-leaf figs on Jamhuri Road, Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NMG 

Forget the peace lily or the Mother-in-law’s tongue as houseplants. The fiddle-leaf fig is gracing design magazines and adding character and uniqueness to many celebrity homes. It is now the official trendy houseplant of French luxury yet it grows well in Africa.

However, not many Kenyan interior designers add this ornamental plant to office spaces, hotels or homes.

The fiddle-leaf fig, with its large, heavily veined and violin shaped leaves, is expensive in markets such as US and costs about Sh10,000 in high-end nurseries, but in Nairobi it retails for about Sh1,000.

Its large glossy leaves grow in a whorl up, radiating from a single point to wrap around the long straight stem. This fashionable plant, scientifically known as the Ficus lyrata, can either be grown indoors or outdoors.

“Most owners like it indoors where it sits at the corner of the room and acts as the focal point of view,” said Benard Mutethia, a flower dealer on Nairobi’s Ngong Road.

He said the plant can grow up to 10 feet tall and some people may opt to take it outside if it crowds a room.

The plant makes a perfect choice for both office and home as it is relatively easy to manage and does not require a lot of watering.

Originally from West Africa, the fiddle-leaf fig is a relatively tough plant that can withstand less-than-perfect conditions for a fairly long time.

Mr Mutethia, who has been in the flower business for 18 years now, notes the difference between the smaller specimen and the larger ones is time.

“The smaller ones are young versions of the fig tree and they have leaves all the way up. The older specimens have been pruned over the years to give them a mini-tree appearance,” he said. He shares tips on growing a thriving fiddle-leaf fig, which he warns will experience slight discolouration on its leaves when transferred from indoor to outdoor surroundings.

Propagation

The fiddle-leaf fig can either be grown from seeds, cuttings or through air layering where you root branches while they are still attached to the parent plant.

Its seeds do not come by easily unless you live in a tropical area and even if you find them, they are infertile and will require you to fertilise them with parasitic fig wasps. It makes more sense to use the cuttings method where stem cuttings are placed in potting soil where they grow roots.

However, if the plan is to have larger plants within a shorter duration, opt for the air layering option. Roots start forming within 90 to 120 days.

Watering

The fiddle-leaf fig is not an especially demanding plant and requires relatively smaller amounts of water compared to other fiscus trees.

For the indoor plant, watering can be done at least twice a week. The trick is to let the top 50 per cent of the soil to dry out and the leaves to become soft and flexible before watering. While at it, ensure that you keep water off of the large fiddle shaped leaves in order to prevent mould.

Lighting

The plant requires bright, filtered light. Lighting is important as it helps in the photosynthesis process, giving the plant a healthier darker look. The waxy dark green foliage forms a perfect contrast with light, neutral walls and furnishings.

Plants that have limited supply of light fail to grow rapidly and are hence less eye-catching. Place it near a window and wipe dust off the leaves with a wet cloth. A dusty leaf blocks sunlight.

You can also place the fiddle-leaf fig plant in full sun, since it is a tolerant plant but chances are that the leaves will not be as dark.

Repotting

It is the delight of any plant owner to see it grow fast. Typically, the fiddle-leaf fig grows fast with aggressive root systems, meaning that their stay as a potted plant is only time-bound.

It is advisable to change the pot size at least once a year to accommodate the roots until the plant reaches the desired size or you feel you cannot manage the container any more.

You can move the grown plant into your backyard for it to adopt to its new surroundings.

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