June 17, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

Fighting the Ficus

By Atlas Novack

NEWS-FicusBerries71516BIf you live in Santa Monica, you’ve probably seen them: Big trees shading the streets, while beneath them, the sidewalk and surrounds are upheaved by massive roots, creating tent shaped imperfections. The roots of the Indian Laurel Figs (Ficus Natida) or just “ficus trees” can make parking hard on your car, and create an easy place to trip and fall. However, the biggest complaint come the summer season, is the berries that the trees drop; little purple things that get stuck to everything they touch.

Ficus trees are the second-most common in Santa Monica’s Urban Forest, making up 8.91 percent of all 3,000-plus trees, trailing Mexican Fan Palm trees that dot our coastal landscape, City of Santa Monica Urban Forester Matthew Wells told The Mirror.

The reason they’re so abundant is that they are “fashionable,” Wells explained, as they shade the streets, and thrive in our dry climate. However, the reason they do well here is due to their aggressive root systems, which will tear up concrete in the search for underground water.

They also absorb pollution alongside their shade properties, which was the reasoning behind their planting abundance in the 1950s and 1960s, Wells said.

As the trees reach the end of their lifespan, hit their triannual pruning, and try to survive the drought, they are producing more fruit.

“They’re everywhere [the fruits]. They’re stuck all over my car, inside and out, they’re stuck to my shoes, in my doormat, the streets are covered in a black goo,” said Santa Monica resident Brynn Malek.

In Newport Beach, a drug called Atrimmec is being used to prevent the production of the figs on the tree (the success of which varies from tree to tree). Wells said the side effects, cost ($50 per tree), and potential impacts on the ecosystem are too great to warrant the chemical’s use.

Instead, the City is taking tangible steps to help: as the ficus trees die off, they are being replaced with more urban friendly trees, namely fern pines and carrotwoods, both of which have a similar look and canopy size, but have less aggressive roots.

Ficus are also not being planted much on smaller streets such as Ashland or Cloverfield either.

“As we move forward, we will plant the fig trees on larger streets so they have the room they need,” Wells said. “We want a diverse and safe urban forest, with the lowest maintenance cost possible.”

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