Creating An Epiphytic Style Fig
by Jerry Meislik



Many Ficus species are capable of growing epiphytically on other trees. These epiphytically growing figs are also called strangler figs. For more information on this style of Ficus please look here.


The trunk of a dead bonsai is used as the support or host tree. No treatment of any sort is done to preserve the trunk because I wish to have the host trunk rot out and with time. Seven Ficus microcrapa 'Tigerbark' will be attached to this trunk. These Ficus trees are selected for relatively straight trunks and few branches. All these trees are cuttings taken from the same tree so that they are alike in all respects. Do not use random seed grown Ficus as their bark color and other characteristics will vary and the final creation may look "unusual". The trees are removed from their pots, the soil is removed and roots are kept intact, especially the long ones. Trees are selected to fit on the host trunk. Some minor amounts of wood are removed from the host if the contour does not allow a good fit. Branches that interfere with the attachment of the trees to the host are removed. Iron nails are hammered through the trees and into the host trunk to secure them. Roots are positionedon the trunk, stapled to the trunk and led into the soil. The roots should be kept moist during this process to keep the trees fom dehydrating.Shaping the trees and wiring them to shape is probably best be done at a later time to minimize stress on the trees. Once the position of the trees is set, the roots are covered with moistened long-fibered sphagnum moss. The moss and the host trunk are then covered with aluminum foil. Gaps are left to allow water to be applied to the moss covering and to the soil in the pot.The tree is kept in high humidity and out of the sun and wind for at least two weeks and no fertilizer is applied unti new growth is evident.After 12-24 months of very vigorous and uncontrolled growth, the foil is removed and the sphagnum moss gradually pulled away. Many new roots/trunks will have formed and these are thinned out, keeping the best and most artistic. Unneeded roots can be removed or repositioned, covered with moss and plastic and allowed to grow.Over time the Ficus trees will cover the whole trunk and fuse to each other and in fact may look like one tree with a very large trunk. Or their growth can be restrained and the individual trees allowed to remain as separate epiphytes.


The creation of an epiphytic style fig is easy and fun. Young inexpensive Ficus can be easily propagated or purchased and attached to a deadwood trunk. With this simple technique a unique and wonderful bonsai can be created in only a few years.


Step by step creation of an epiphytic style Ficus microcarpa

Two Ficus microcarpa trees flanking a deadwood stump.


Close up of a Ficus trunk with two nails holding it
against the stump.


Five Ficus trees nailed near the base of the stump.


Ficus roots situated and then stapled to the stump.


Seven Ficus trees attached to the trunk.


Moist sphagnum moss surrounding the roots and the stump.


Ben Devall, my student and assistant, with the completed creation wrapped in aluminum foil.


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