01/05/2015 04:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Creeping Fig, Easy Trails

Many people think that folks who work in horticulture have an affinity for plants that are rare and require an expert's touch. Truth is, most of us are not that masochistic. Sure, we have a few special finds peppering our collections, but just as often what gets us going are plants that are versatile and which require little care. Because it can thrive in sun or shade and has forgiving watering needs, creeping fig (Ficus pumila), is versatility personified

Creeping fig couldn't be any less fig-like. You would never recognize it as being related to the Benjamin ficus (Ficus benjamina) or the fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) that we use as tall upright houseplants. Like its name implies, creeping fig daintily trails and climbs like the delicate debutant counterpart to brutish ivy. The smallish leaves of creeping fig transform in shape and size in climates where they can mature past a single season. In colder climates we rarely get to see the mature leaves. For us, creeping fig is an annual groundcover or, more commonly, a trailer used in the foreground of container plantings. In any climate, creeping fig can be kept as a houseplant. I have often incorporated it into tropical terrariums, where it can be used either as a green filler or as a featured specimen.


During a recent stay at Hotel San Jose in Austin Texas, I was given a new sense of what this plant can do in climates warmer than Chicago's frigid zone 5. Shadowed by a southern magnolia, the staircase leading up to my room was softened in appearance by creeping fig that was clinging (no trellis needed, it clings without assistance) to the foot-wide railing. The balance of the soft green with the simple and linier cement was so welcoming I was forced to stop and take a picture.

Up a wall, over a container, peaking out of a terrarium, who knows what else. Creeping fig wants to be used and it is up to our creative imaginations to find new ways explore its possibilities.