(Note: See here for a list of all posts I have made about nematode resistant fig roostocks.)
In my search for nematode resistant rootstocks for common fig, I’ve recently acquired a new candidate to try out (actually two new candidates).
I have already posted about how I’ve tried the ornamental creeping fig, Ficus pumila, which seems to be nematode resistant, frost tolerant, and graft compatible with common fig. But Ficus pumila has a few issues: it’s a little tricky to graft because of the need to root cuttings of mature wood of the rootstock, and preliminary results indicate it might have an extreme dwarfing effect on the fig scion.
After I made that post, Marabou Thomas of Orlando left a comment, saying that he had just been to Leu Gardens and had seen a plant which was a hybrid between creeping fig, Ficus pumila, and edible fig, Ficus carica, and maybe this hybrid might have potential as a fig rootstock. This was news to me – I hadn’t known there were hybrids between these species. So I looked online and found that Woodlanders Nursery is selling two clones of this interspecific cross. I recently ordered one plant each of both clones.
The plants arrived in good shape, and are already putting out new growth. One of the hybrid clones has the cultivar name ‘Ruth Bancroft’, and it appears slightly closer to Ficus carica – many of its leaves are partially lobed, and the leaves don’t seem to have the leathery texture that leaves of the mature phase of creeping fig have. The other clone does not have a cultivar name, and it appears closer to the mature phase of creeping fig, with leaves that are somewhat leathery, and mostly unlobed.
Woodlanders describes the growth habit of both hybrids as being semi-vining. I don’t know if these hybrids will have the same difference between juvnile and mature growth that Ficus pumila has, with mature-phase wood having much fatter twigs than juvenile wood. But even as the plants are, growing in three gallon sized pots, many of the twigs are fat enough to be able to root as cuttings and then graft edible fig scions onto.
I am particularly excited about the potential of these hybrids as fig rootstocks because of their cold hardiness. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one issue I am running into in this project is that many of the most promising potential rootstocks for figs are tropical Ficus species which can’t handle freezing temperatures. Even though the edible fig scion can handle freezes, if a fig tree gets its rootstock frozen out from under it, the whole tree will die. One option for dealing with this is to graft low and bury the graft union, but then the scion tends to put out roots above the graft, possibly negating the benefits of the rootstock. Tropical species might work out well as rootstocks for figs in South Florida and other areas not subject to hard freezes, but up here in North Florida, it’s best to have a rootstock which can handle cold temperatures. Ficus pumila is reported to by hardy to about ten degrees F (-12C), and edible fig is roughly in the same range of cold tolerance, so any hybrids between them should have about the same ability to handle freezes.
Since Ficus pumila is graft-compatible with Ficus carica, I expect pumila x carica hybrids to be fully graft compatible as well. And hopefully the hybrids will have the full nematode tolerance that Ficus pumila seems to have. That’s one reason I wanted to get both hybrids – just in case one had inherited more nematode tolerance than the other. I also wondered if one might make fatter, more graft-able twigs than the other.
Once these plants have grown some more, I will multiply them by cuttings, test them for nematode resistance by planting out in nematode-infested areas, and try grafting figs onto them. I’ve only recently acquired the plants, and haven’t had time to do any of that yet, so this is a very preliminary report. But I wanted to get this information out, so that anyone else interested in participating in this project can order plants from Woodlanders and try it yourself.