Ficus dammaropsis in Santa Cruz: Yet another miracle plant for the Bay Area

Ficus dammaropsis is a knock-your-socks-off fig tree from the highlands of Papua New Guinea with gigantic leaves. Previously I have only seen it in botanical gardens in Southern California. A plant master told me that one specimen is alive and kicking right in front of the Santa Cruz Art Center at 1001 Center Street. So I went over and checked it out after a Rare Fruit Growers’ Picnic nearby.

The first thing I noticed is the can-not-get-any-better microclimate: this tree is right against an inward corner of the building wall facing south. A big Liquidamber tree is conveniently located to protect its large leaves from harsh mid-day summer sun. It also does not hurt to be less than two miles away from the ocean. All things considered this tree probably has never seen below freezing temperature at this location.

It is kind of funny how this tree seems to be trying to hide from people who pass by:

Here are those big leaves with my left hand for scale:

Full view from the other direction:

There were some discussions about another more tender Ficus species (F. casearioides syn. F. kingii) masquerading as F. dammaropsis at the Palmtalk Forum(link). This one is probably the real deal and its existance is a great inspiration for all adventurous gardeners who want to try plants from more tropical areas.

Further Note: During the Late Show in Sonoma in September, 2009, I talked to Ginny Hunt who is a horticulturalist for Suncrest Nurseries and also the owner of Seedhunt. It turns out that the lady who planted this Ficus dammaropsis is Ginny’s sister Rosalie, who bought it from San Lorenzo Lumber nursery in Santa Cruz. This plant almost got killed during the infamous 1990 freeze but came back and resprouted. Rosalie has since moved to Texas, but I applaud her for giving us this wonderful legacy.