Ficus, oh ficus

I have a complex relationship with my ficus tree: it's the air conditioner for the house, holds up the tree house and shades half the garden, but it sheds a huge amount. I compost everything except the ficus leaves, which seem to be toxic to seedlings.Is there a toxin in ficus that causes the problem and is there a composting method to make ficus leaves reusable?

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Mar 17, 2017

by: Caroline

Dear Anonymous

Thank you for your question. Some preliminary searches are throwing up interesting information. The latex in some species of Ficus is a mild poison and irritant to mammals. But I found nothing on its toxicity to plants, and assume there may be a problem there. Apparently it is produced in separate cells to the plant's sap. From agricultural research on latex harvesting, it appears to be unstable when fresh, and coagulates easily, but mixed with ammonia, it remains stable as a liquid.

Mixing fresh leaves with urine may be a bad idea, creating a stable liquid irritant in the compost. Is your tree a Ficus elastica by any chance ? They are used in some parts of the world for latex production. If the leaves you are composting are dry, then the latex in them may have coagulated already, and hardened, so you you are adding unwittingly, an inert water proof substance to your compost, basically rubber. It may break down into smaller particles, but in its sheer quantities, it could not only irritate other plant tissues, but suffocate either the soil life or the plants. These are wild guesses as to the cause of your problem. The solution may be dilution, reducing the percentage of ficus detritus in the compost. Other bloggers on composting Ficus

did not unfortunately answer our question. There is the suggestion that under a Ficus tree, the shade is so dense, and the shallow root system so prolific and dense, that other plants struggle to grow, though this information may not serve you.

I will let you know if I have any more information or ideas

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