One of the most frequently asked questions by guests of my Charleston walking tours is, “What is THAT called?” (As the person points to the massive green vine attached to many, many walls, stairs, columns, garages, etc. all over the city.)
The answer is: Creeping Fig, Ficus pumila: “Tropical Ivy”
The next question is usually something like, “Will it kill a tree?” Well, yes it can. It’s the sort of plant that has two sides: looks dreamy and fabulous, but can wreak havoc on innocent bystanders, like wall surfaces that perhaps you didn’t mean to ruin.
Creeping fig is a member of the Ficus genus which includes plants like the rubber tree, a tall jungle banyan, and even the domesticated edible fig tree. Native of East Asia and found on Japan’s southern islands, it is also found in parts of eastern China, and even in Vietnam. The species name pumila is derived from the Latin word pumilus, which means “dwarf” and refers to the miniature heart-shaped leaves produced by the plant early on.
Creeping fig will climb over anything. Unfortunately, the gum-like adhesive it uses to do so can damage or destroy certain surfaces, including wood and mortar and makes the vine absolutely impossible to remove. So, once you commit to growing this beautiful “creep” in your yard, you’d better be certain he’s going to live there…forever.
One of the most important figures in Charleston’s landscape architecture history is Loutrel Winslow Briggs (1893-1977). He was born in New York and graduated from Cornell University in 1917 with a then uncommonly known degree in “Rural Art” which is today known as Landscape Architecture.
In the Roaring 20s, he began a seasonal landscape architecture firm in Charleston that catered to wealthy Charlestonians, particularly those who spent their winters in the Holy City. His first notable project was the William Gibbes House in 1929 for Mrs. Washington Roebling who lived at 64 S. Battery Street, and was the widow of the man who supervised construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Years later in 1951, Briggs published a most-beloved book titled “Charleston Gardens” and it featured the over 100 private gardens he lovingly designed throughout his decades in Charleston.
Perhaps it’s the the symmetrical style of many of his designs still found throughout the downtown historic district that gives Charleston its handsome and elegant appearance?
The use of creeping fig, the boxwood hedge, and other familiar border plants are among the favored looks of the typical Charleston garden.
To experience the unforgettable beauty of the Creeping Fig of Charleston, please visit my website for the most recent schedule of my walking tours. Together we’ll explore Charleston and discover the exquisite landscape designs that have endured.
Cheers to the Biggest Creep in Charleston!