ISSUE 52  |  Best of 2014

Field Guide: Fiddle Leaf Fig

December 29, 2014 7:30 PM

BY Amanda Gutterman

Fiddle Leaf Fig, Ficus lyrata: “Fiddler Under the Roof”

Fiddle leaf fig plants have little to do with fiddles–or figs, for that matter. Unlike their cousins in the fig, or ficus, family, fiddle leaf figs do not produce fruit. And you will not hear them playing Mendelssohn’s concerto in E minor on the violin. However, fiddle leaf fig plants speak to a refined aesthetic palate and are a testament to good taste on the part of their owners. Interior design bloggers are enamored with the fiddle leaf fig; in the background of many a stylish photo shoot, you will spot its rounded, dinner-plate leaves flopping in many directions.

fiddle leaf fig family room

Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

In the U.S., the fiddle leaf fig usually grows indoors, in living rooms, bedrooms, and dining rooms where filtered sunlight is available. It looks dashing in an all-white space, where it provides a focal point for visual interest. The fiddle leaf fig is equally at home in a Persian-carpeted den of antiquities as in the spare pad of an Ikea lover. With its blunt-edged, guitar-pick shaped leaves lilting at all angles, the fiddle leaf fig resembles the blue plants in a collage by Matisse, or else a wonkily off-balance Calder mobile sculpture. (Be careful: the fiddle leaf fig has been known to induce name-dropping.)


Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

Cheat Sheet:

  • If you have humid summers, bring a fiddle leaf fig outdoors in warm weather to remind it of its native jungle climate.
  • Evergreen; hardy in growing zones 9-11.
  • Good companion to: your furniture.

Keep It Alive:

  • When its soil feels dry, give a fiddle leaf fig tepid water and make sure it drains well.
  • Prefers bright, indirect sunlight.
  • The best time to re-pot is in the spring, when a fiddle leaf fig naturally enjoys a growth spurt.

fiddle leaf fig leaf closeup

Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

Though of course they are not actually fiddlers, fiddle leaf fig plants have an artistic temperament. They require just the right amount of filtered sunlight: not too much or the leaves will burn, and not too little, or they will shrivel up and leave you in a costly lurch, as the plants are often priced around $50. At such an exorbitant rate, your fiddle leaf fig deserves a beautiful planter–not too large though, or your plant is liable to get stage fright and die. As far as water, the fiddle leaf fig is closer to a starving artist. It is able to subsist on watering only once a week when the soil feels dry. If you can put up with the diva behavior, you’ll have screen-worthy results.

The world’s most famous fiddle leaf figs? You’ve seen them on Pinterest; here’s Where They Live.

For more, see 10 Tips for Caring for a Fiddle Leaf Fig. Looking for the right houseplant? See 250 images of our favorite Houseplants in our Gardenista Gallery. Browse the rest of our favorite plants in our Field Guide archive.