By Jerry Meislik
One of the most common varieties of Ficus offered over the internet as well as in many department and box stores is the 'Ginseng Ficus' also called 'Pot Bellied Ficus' as well as many other common names. Ginseng refers to the "trunk's" similar look to a Ginseng plants roots. It is in reality just one of the many varieties of Ficus microcarpa, also called Ficus retusa.
Ficus microcarpa is found in many different varieties when it is derived from seedling stock. Seedlings of microcarpa vary widely in leaf size, color, texture, bark color as well as the inherited tendency to form large fleshy turnip-like roots.
A typical Ginseng Ficus plant has two or more large roots that have been elevated above the soil level to create what appears to be a trunk and then a cluster of branches arising out of the roots. A foliage canopy is perched over the roots to finish off the bonsai.
The elevated roots can look like human legs or animals or many other possible things. Those who purchase these plants are often fascinated by the myriad of puzzling forms exhibited by the roots. Others seem puzzled by how to shape these into more traditional looking bonsai with a trunk and typical branching patterns.
One possibility to try if you wish a conventional looking bonsai is to repot the tree moving the large fleshy roots to parallel the soil surface and then covering most of the horizontal roots with soil to conceal the major bulk of the roots below soil level. Expose only some of the surface of the roots to create an elegantly large rootage.
If the large roots are removed and only the fine roots are allowed to remain, these fine roots will enlarge over time to recreate the same problem.
Probably the best approach is to simply enjoy the tree for its unusual and unique features.