Ficus Altissima care is very similar to many other plants that you probably already own. Learn how to help this gorgeous variegated cultivar thrive in your home, as well as how to propagate it.
How do you care for a Ficus Altissima?
Have you ever had a plant that you want to like but just can’t vibe with? I wrote about this in the prayer plant care post. I have never been a prayer plant person…that is, until I saw my gorgeous lemon-lime prayer plant. Sometimes it just takes the right plant.
I have felt this way about the Ficus Audrey for a long time. I really want to like this plant. I often see pictures of it that I love, but when I see it in person, it’s just kind of blah. Which is weird because it’s really similar to the rubber tree, which I adore. (See my rubber plant care guide for more.)
For a while, I actually thought the Ficus Altissima and the Ficus Audrey were the same—one was just a variegated version. While that’s not the case, the two plants are closely related. And in my opinion, the Altissima “yellow gem” serves up what the Audrey was lacking for me: leaf shine and bright colors.
Are Ficus Audrey and Altissima the same?
Long story short, no. But they can be hard to tell apart, especially in their juvenile forms. The full name of Audrey is “Ficus Benghalensis.” It’s native to India and turns into a gorgeous tall tree, but it’s also an increasingly popular houseplant.
The leaves on Ficus Audrey are solid green, and the growth pattern of the Audrey is very similar to a rubber tree (Ficus Elastica). The leaves have a similar shape, but they are thinner and do not have nearly as gorgeous of a shine (in my opinion!). The Audrey is also known as the “Indian Fig Tree,” and it’s India’s national tree!
Ficus “yellow gem” or “council tree,” is an Altissima, not a Benghalensis (like Audrey is). However, it sure does look a lot like the Audrey! To me the Altissima looks like a cross between the Audrey and a variegated rubber tree (Elastica).
The leaves on the Altissima have a similar shape and growth pattern to the Audrey, but they are a bit thicker, and the tips are pointier. They also have gorgeous glossy sheen like the Altissima. And the green and bright yellow variegation is simply stunning.
I haven’t given up hope on finding an Audrey that really speaks to me. I do really like Ficus plants, so we’ll see. Maybe I’m more of a tree Audrey kind of gal, and I have only really seen smaller plants in local nurseries.
Ficus Altissima “yellow gem” origins
The Altissima is in the Moraceae family, Ficus genus. Altissima is the species. It is native to tropical areas in Southeastern Asia. Also referred to as the “council tree” or “lofty fig,” the Altissima starts off as an epiphyte plant.
“Epiphyte” is a type of plant that grows up and attaches to other plants, trees, branches, or other things for support. (Think of it like nature’s trellis!) These types of plants don’t attach to the ground and often grow in tropical climates where humidity is high, light is bright and indirect, and there is plenty to climb.
The Altissima then develops into a full-fledged plant of its own, sending roots down whatever it is climbing and attaching to. The roots go down into the ground, creating the root structure the plant needs to stand on its own. The Altissima you buy will be at this stage—rooted and growing.
“Yellow gem,” or the variegated yellow and green version you’ll find at your local nursery, is a newer cultivar of this plant. It’s the same plant, just got a little facelift. The bright foliage is very eye-catching.
Ficus Altissima care and light needs
So let’s jump in to Ficus Altissima care. Since you’re likely growing your Altissima as a houseplant, I’ll focus on indoor lighting conditions. Like its popular relatives the rubber plant and the Ficus Lyrata (aka fiddle leaf fig, see my fiddle leaf fig care guide for more), it enjoys bright indirect light.
Too much direct sun can burn the leaves, but I personally have never had any issues with too much direct light on my plants indoors. Even in my sunniest spot. If you aren’t giving your plant enough light, it will likely grow slowly, and its variegation will dull a bit.
If you do choose to bring your yellow gem outside, put it in the shade. I have burned the leaves on a fiddle leaf fig before, and they don’t bounce back! You have to deal with them or prune them off.
And they aren’t cute, either. The leaves will develop brown splotches where the sun has scorched the plant. The same goes for the Altissima. A shady spot under a tree, balcony, or covered porch is great. Some morning sun won’t hurt.
Watering your yellow gem
Ficus Altissima likes to dry out between watering sessions. That generally means that I water mine once a week in the spring and summer, once every 2 weeks in the fall and winter. But it really depends on how much light and heat your plant gets.
You can use a moisture meter, or you can be fancy like I am and stick your finger down into the soil. If the top few inches are dry, you can probably water the plant again. You’ll get into a routine based on your home’s conditions.
If you overwater your Altissima, you will likely notice yellowing leaves that fade and lose their variegation, eventually falling off. You’ll notice a definite difference between the vibrant variegated yellow and the overwatered yellow.
The safest way to ensure you don’t overwater your Altissima is by planting it in a pot with drainage holes. I’ve kept mine in the plastic nursery pot it came in and set it down into a white ceramic pot. Fits perfectly. I just take it out and set it in the sink to water it.
That said—I will be the first to admit that I have had a rubber plant (Ficus Elastica) and fiddle leaf fig (Ficus Lyrata) in pots without drainage holes for years. I have just been too lazy to repot them. They are fine—I just have to be really careful not to overwater.
What is the best Ficus soil?
One thing that makes Ficus Altissima care simple is that Ficus plants in general are not picky about soil. A regular soil labeled “indoor potted plant soil” or “houseplant soil” will work just fine. I wrote a deep-dive post all about houseplant soil and the different amendments you can use.
I generally throw a handful of peat moss or coco coir in with a normal houseplant mix just to enhance the drainage a bit. Perlite is also a great option for enhancing drainage.
Using a well-draining soil is a great way to help prevent overwatering. Well-draining soil and a pot with a drainage hole allow all of the excess water to flow freely down through the plant’s root system, as well as allow air flow.
Temperature and humidity
It’s not cold hardy, so unless you live in Florida or sunny Cali, it’s best as a houseplant when the temperature drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It tolerates normal household temperatures just fine.
Keep in mind that big swings in temperature and humidity can lead your Altissima to throw a bit of a fit. The fiddle leaf fig is super notorious for this, too. So don’t move your plant too much if it’s comfy where it is.
If you’re bringing your plant indoors from a summer outside, try to let it stay outside as the temperature and humidity naturally drops. Just don’t let the night temperatures get below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That should ease your plant’s transition back indoors.
I have not had any issues with my Ficus plants in normal household humidity levels, including my Altissima. However, since it comes from tropical regions of Southeast Asia, it will certainly appreciate some extra humidity!
Add a humidifier to go the extra mile. Or if you live somewhere humid, let the plant vacation outside in a shaded area. You can also mist the plant’s foliage, but make sure you don’t get the top of the soil too damp. This can lead to fungus gnats.
Should I fertilize my plant?
It doesn’t really need it, but it also won’t hurt and will probably help boost its growth rate if you do fertilize it. I’m super lazy with fertilizer in all of my houseplants. This past spring I decided to use worm castings mixed into all of my freshly potted plants to help with nutrients.
If you do want to use fertilizer on your Altissima, you can pick up any ol’ concentrated houseplant fertilizer that you dilute in water. Follow the directions on the fertilizer. I personally err on the side of caution by under-fertilizing because I have burned plants with too much fertilizer in the past!
How tall does a Ficus Altissima grow?
In nature, these beauties can grow to 40 feet tall—amazing. They also have very wide root systems. If you live in a climate that’s warm year round, you can give it a go in the ground.
As a potted houseplant, the Altissima can still grow to be several feet tall. My rubber plant reached about 6 feet tall last year before I pruned it down to reclaim some space (see pic below).
Remember that not all growth is good growth, too. Pruning is an important part of keeping all Ficus plants healthy—even though it can be hard! You can cut off leaves that are cosmetically damaged—or you can just cut off stems to help shape the plant.
This is often done with fiddle leaf fig plants. It’s how they get that bobblehead waif-y look. Some other Ficus plants have a similar style that you can replicate over time through strategically pruning.
Even though it can be hard to cut off parts of your plant, it often encourages healthy new growth. However, with Ficus plants, watch for that icky milky sap. It can irritate your skin, so use gloves or avoid the sap and wash your hands.
How fast does Ficus Altissima grow?
Ficus plants in general grow pretty quickly, but they don’t grow like weeds or anything. When they are happy, they’ll probably need to be repotted once a year. A good rule of thumb for repotting an Altissima is when the roots start to really circle the shape of the pot’s inside (rootbound).
You also know your plant is due for a repotting when the roots start to emerge from the drainage holes on the bottom. Give those babies some more room to grow! Your plant wants to get bigger! 🙂
Don’t size your pot up too much, though. One to two inches larger than its current pot will do just fine. If you choose a pot that is too big, the soil will retain too much moisture, and the plant’s foliage will suffer as it tries to fill out all of the empty soil with its roots.
How do you propagate a Ficus Altissima yellow gem?
It’s really simple. The easiest way to do it is through a stem cutting. You can take a stem cutting, remove the bottom leaf or two, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and plant it in moist soil. Keep the soil moist and the environment humid to encourage root development.
I have never propagated my Altissima, but I have propagated my rubber plant and have also propagated fiddle leaf fig cuttings. You might want to try water propagation, too. I had a lot of luck with that method when rooting my fiddle leaf fig cuttings.
Additionally, I have posts on how to root cuttings in sphagnum moss and how to propagate plants in LECA if you’re interested in reading up on other methods! I love experimenting with different propagation mediums.
Are Ficus plants toxic to pets and kids?
Yes, all Ficus plants are somewhat toxic to cats, dogs, other pets, and humans. Ingesting the plant probably won’t be fatal, but it will cause an upset tummy and other bad irritation. Therefore, it’s best to keep them away from nosy kitties and other pets that might nibble them.
My cats don’t bother any of my Ficus plants, though. They tend to prefer the leafy plants, so I have to keep those up and out of reach or locked in my Ikea greenhouse cabinet. Use your best judgment with your home. See my post about 16 non-toxic plants for pets if you want to err on the side of caution.
Why is my Ficus Altissima dropping leaves?
As I mentioned above, the Altissima is sensitive to changing conditions. If you move the plant to somewhere that is drafty (like near a window or air vent), it could make the plant unhappy. The Altissima will show you it’s unhappy by dropping leaves.
Overwatering can also cause leaves to drop. But in that case, the leaves will probably be dull and a bit limp before dropping. Leaf drop due to a changing environment will likely be much more sudden.