Ficus altissima, also known as council tree or Asian council tree, is a beautiful lush houseplant closely related to the popular fiddle leaf fig.
They are an absolutely stunning variety of Ficus featuring variegated leaves with lemon, lime, and dark green colors. These impressive markings on the leaves are similar to rubber tree leaves (another plant in the ficus family).
Ficus trees can easily be grown as houseplants and are one of few trees that will be happy maturing in pots. They are excellent air purifiers, so keeping them inside has the added benefit of cleaning your air.
Give this stunning plant the attention it deserves by placing it in a central spot, where all can appreciate her uniquely colored foliage.
Or plant the Ficus tree outside in warm regions, to let the tree reach sizes of 40 ft tall with a crown of 30 ft.
If you already have a Ficus tree in your home, you probably have a pretty good idea of how to care for your council tree.
Ficus altissima, however, is not as picky as fiddle leaf figs and is a great alternative for those who don’t feel super confident.
With just a little bit of proper care, you can easily grow a full-on tree in your home – how exciting! Make sure to continue reading to arm yourself with the knowledge to keep your Ficus altissima thriving.
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Ficus Altissima Care
Ficus altissima is the more forgiving cousin of a fiddle leaf fig. Council trees just require watering when the top two inches of soil are dry, bright indirect light, and a bit of fertilizer to encourage strong growth. They are sensitive to changing conditions so be careful when handling. Stress will cause leaves to fall off, but they will eventually bounce back.
My favorite feature about Ficus altissima is that they are very communicative plants and will show you when they don’t like their conditions. Keeping an eye out for dry or yellow leaves, loss of color and brown spots will help you tackle issues early on.
Council trees are happy in a standard houseplant potting mix. You might already have some on hand, but if you don’t they are easily purchased at gardening stores and many supermarkets. Or you can be bold and make your own potting mix.
To make your own soil combine one part of sterilized soil (sold as garden soil) with one part peat moss and one part sand, perlite, or vermiculite. That is to say, if you use one gallon of soil, you would mix in one gallon of the moss and one gallon of sand.
Water your Ficus altissima when the top two inches of the soil dry out. Check the moisture levels by sticking your finger into the soil. If your finger comes out pretty clean with just some dry dirt, it’s time to water again.
If it comes out wet and muddy, you’ll want to check back in a few days before watering again.
Each house is different and the amount of watering depends heavily on ambient humidity and temperature. When you first bring your council tree plant home, closely monitor how many days it takes for the top two inches to dry out.
Keep in mind that the number of days between waterings will change quite a bit between the growing summer season and the dormant winter season.
Monitoring soil humidity is very important because Ficus are sensitive to overwatering. They will show signs of overwatering through yellowing leaves. If they aren’t getting enough water, the tips of the leaves will turn brown and crispy.
When you go to water your Ficus altissima, give it a good soak until water starts to drain out of the pot and into the tray underneath.
Get rid of the excess water so the roots aren’t sitting in it and keep an eye on the soil to know when to water next.
Like any other ficus, council tree plants will be happy with bright indirect light. Direct light will cause some of the leaves to burn and not enough light will result in dull colors.
When bringing a new plant home from the nursery, it’s important to know that they are often grown underneath shade cloth. To prevent burnt leaves, gradually expose your Ficus to a little more sun each day.
If you immediately place the tree in a bright, sunny spot the leaves will become sunburnt.
Foliage will show signs of sunburn through dry, brown areas in the middle of the leaf. If the tips of the leaf are crispy, it’s not from sunburn, it’s from underwatering.
Ficus altissima enjoys warm temperatures and won’t tolerate the cold. Ideally, you should maintain temperatures about 60 – 68 F (16 – 20 C).
In warm regions, you can grow Ficus altissima outside. In regions with even mild winters, keep your Ficus altissima in a pot. You can move the tree outside during the summer, but don’t forget to bring the plant in as soon as temperatures begin to fall.
If you choose to bring your council tree plant in and out between the seasons, just make sure not to expose the tree to intense changes in temperature.
They will lose all their leaves if exposed to a sharp change in temperature. Gradually hardening them off will allow them to slowly adapt to new conditions.
Ficus altissima prefers a humid environment, but too much humidity will encourage disease. Keep your council tree close to other humid-loving houseplants to create a humid microclimate.
Transpiration from the leaves of many plants will naturally maintain a good level of humidity. If it’s all by itself and showing signs of being too dry, consider running a humidifier in that room.
Ficus altissima doesn’t need to be fertilized, but they won’t grow as fast if you don’t feed them. Encourage even growth by fertilizing them at half the recommended strength with either a slow-release fertilizer three times per year or with a diluted liquid fertilizer once a month during the spring and summer.
If you do decide to fertilize, be very careful not to damage the delicate root system. Over-fertilizing or using a cheap chemical fertilizer will build up in the soil and burn the roots, potentially killing the plant.
For plants like this with a sensitive root system, I would recommend always choosing an organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers don’t burn the roots so easily and provide organic matter for the soil instead of building up salt deposits.
Repot your Ficus altissima when the roots are starting to peak out of the drainage hole. This is the best way to know what they have filled out their current home and are ready for the next size up (about 2 inches in diameter larger than the previous pot).
Choose a pot that is only slightly larger than the original. You want to give the root system more space to grow, but too much space will overwhelm the plant. It will spend too much energy trying to re-establish the root system in the pot and the above-ground parts will suffer as a result.
Repotting your council tree plant is also a great way to encourage growth. So when your Ficus altissima hasn’t put out new growth in a while, it might be time to give it a new home.
To repot your council tree plant, follow the standard instructions for repotting most houseplants, but here are some helpful tips:
- Repot the plant on a day it’s meant to be watered since the dry soil will make it much easier to pull out of the pot.
- Don’t wait too long to repot after roots start peaking out from the drainage hole since it will be much more difficult to remove if it has become root-bound.
- Pull the plant out from the base, where you can get the best grip. If your plant has gotten very big, ask a friend for help.
It’s good practice to prune your Ficus altissima to keep it small and tidy in its container. You can prune off damaged leaves and influence the shape of the canopy by strategically cutting off specific branches. Yearly pruning of dead and unnecessary branches will encourage lush foliage.
Wait to prune until late winter or early spring, before new growth begins. To prune a branch cut it off with sterilized pruning shears above a leaf node or branching stem.
When pruning, watch out for the white milky substance that will ooze out of the cut. It is mildly toxic and can irritate your skin (especially if exposed to sunlight). If you get any of the sap on your skin, wash it off immediately with soap and water.
Some Ficus varieties are easier to propagate than others. You can propagate your Ficus altissima through cuttings or via air layering.
Taking a branch cutting and rooting it in moist soil is the most straightforward way to go.
Once the cutting has established some roots, transplant it into its permanent home following the care instructions above.
Propagating cuttings is a great way to get new plants for yourself or to give away to friends. It’s also nice to have a backup, just in case anything happens to the mother plant.
Ficus altissima will not bloom in indoor conditions. In the wild, fig-trees have incredibly peculiar flowers and pollination systems where the flowers are essentially inside out. For a blooming variety of Ficus, try growing a Mistletoe fig.
Common Problems with Ficus Altissima
Losing its leaves
Ficus altissima will lose all its leaves when being handled or exposed to abrupt changes in light or temperature. Avoid falling leaves by leaving your plant alone as much as possible and gradually introducing her to new environments.
Ficus altissima doesn’t like to be overwatered. Overwatered trees become much more vulnerable to pests and disease. Council trees can also develop root rot if the soil is too wet and not allowed to partially dry between watering.
Prevent overwatering your council tree by using a well-draining soil mix, a pot with good drainage holes, and always checking the soil humidity with your finger before watering.
Tips for Growing Ficus Altissima
Ficus altissima are easy plants to grow and don’t need expert care. Keep consistent watering habits that allow the top of the soil to dry between waterings without getting too dry or too wet.
Bright, indirect light is best but make sure to gradually adjust any light or temperature changes.
Shocking your plant with abrupt changes in light or temperature will cause all the leaves to drop. Dropping leaves isn’t fatal and it will recover, but it will look sad and naked for a while.
Once you’ve found the perfect spot for your Ficus altissima, try not to bother her until it’s time to transplant. If you ever need to move a council tree, please do so with the utmost care.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ficus Altissima
Is Ficus altissima the same as a fiddle leaf fig?
No. Although council trees and fiddle leaf figs are closely related and belong to the same plant family, they are different varieties and require slightly different care.
Ficus altissima is also often confused for rubber trees because of the variegated colors of the leaves. Not only are they not the same, but they also belong to entirely different plant families.
Is Ficus altissima a tree?
Yes! Ficus altissima is one variety of fig trees. These trees are easily grown in containers, making them uniquely suited to be houseplants. If you’re looking for larger plants to bring into your home, Ficus trees are a great option coming in many different shapes and sizes.
Ficus altissima is a lesser-known variety of fig trees. Featuring multi-colored variegated leaves, these trees make a stunning addition to any houseplant collection.
They are easy to care for, as long as you follow the tips laid out in this guide and avoid shocking them with abrupt changes. Maintain consistent care habits and watch as your baby tree develops and grows.
Easily manage your tree’s growth by pruning it to keep it small. Keeping the place indoors year-round will provide you with a natural air purifier.
Now, what are you waiting for? Nothing is stopping you from growing a tree in your apartment or home.
Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.