(NOTE: this post was revised on 12/2/15)
Ficus elastica (Rubber Fig) Aka Rubber bush, Rubber tree, Rubber plant, or Indian Rubber bush, is a species of plant in the fig genus, native to northeast India, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, China (Yunnan), Malaysia, and Indonesia. It has become naturalized in Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and the US State of Florida. It is a species of flowering plant in the family Moraceae. The genus “Ficus” is a pan-tropical genus of trees, shrubs and vines occupying a wide variety of ecological niches; most are evergreen, but some deciduous species are endemic to areas outside of the tropics and to higher elevations. The ‘Variegata’ or “Tri-color” form is used often in P.R. for ornamental purposes.
THE FIG SIGN- The word “ficus” begins to be used as “fig” in early 13c., from Old French figue “fig” (12C), from Old Provençal figa, from Vulgar Latin “fica”, corresponding to Latin ficus “fig tree, fig,” which, with Greek “sykon.” A reborrowing of a word that had been taken directly from Latin as Old English fic “fig, fig-tree.”
The insulting sense of the word in Shakespeare, etc. (A fig for …) is 1570s (in 17c. sometimes in Italian form fico), in part from fig as “small, valueless thing.” “Giving the fig” (Old French faire la figue, Spanish dar la higa) was an indecent gesture of ancient provenance, made by putting the thumb between two fingers or into the mouth, with the intended effect of the modern gesture of “flipping the bird” which means disagreeing with something. The “fig sign” is a mildly obscene gesture used in Turkish and Slavic cultures and some other cultures that use two fingers and a thumb, but not equal to the finger in Anglo-American culture.
Another popular Rubber tree is FICUS RUBIGNIOSA ‘Variegata’ (Rusty Fig), Aka Port Jackson fig (damun in the Sydney language) from Australia. These have leaves which are pubescent on their underside.
The Fig is a banyan of the genus Ficus which contains around 750 species worldwide in warm climates, including the common fig (Ficus cardiac). A Banyan (also Banian) is a fig that starts its life as an epiphyte (a plant growing on another plant) when its seeds germinate in the cracks and crevices on a host tree (or on structures like buildings and bridges). You can already see some banyans in the trunk of this tree, as well as some aerial roots. (Image by Kiran Gopi CC BY-SA 2.5 in)
FICUS RUBIGINOSA–A young specimen, about 20 ft. high. Ficus rubiginosa can grow to 30 m (100 ft) high and nearly as wide with a buttressed trunk, and glossy green leaves. Figs as a group are relatively easy to recognize because they have many aerial roots, as you can see in this image.
FICUS is nicely suited for planting as a specimen in a landscape bed planted in ground covers and shrubs. Here’s Ficus elastic ‘Tricolor’. Hardy to USDA zones 10B through 11.
Their fruits distinguish them from other plants. The fig fruit is an enclosed inflorescence, sometimes referred to as a syconium, an urn-like structure lined on the inside with the fig’s tiny flowers. (Illustration from Köhler’s Medicinal Plants (1887) by Franz Eugen Köhler, U.S. Public Domain)