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Chilling Injury of Ficus benjamin During Simulated Shipping
C. A. Conover and R. T. Poole1
University of Florida, IFAS
Agricultural Research Center-Apopka
ARC-A Research Report RH-83-25
Ficus benjamin is the most popular tree for interiorscaping and is
also used extensively in landscapes of southern Florida. When used in
the landscape, this tree has been observed to tolerate temperatures as
low as 30F without leafdrop and 25 to 280F for short periods without
In recent years, Ficus benjamin has been used extensively in simulated
shipping experiments and shown to tolerate 4 weeks of darkness without signi-
ficant loss of quality (3). During the process of developing recommended
long term shipping temperatures for this tree (1,2) experiments were conducted
that indicated container grown Ficus benjamin are not as cold tolerant as
the same plants in the landscape. This observation led us to initiate
additional experiments with the goal of determining the maximum temperature
under which chilling damage may occur on container grown Ficus benjamin
in simulated shipping and whether this might be influenced by production
light and fertilizer levels.
Experiment 1. August 13, 1981, 5 foot tall Ficus benjamin in 3 gallon
containers were selected for a 2 x 2 x 3 factorial experiment. Trees were
14 months old from cuttings and had been grown in a 3:1 sedge peat:mason 3
sand potting medium amended with 7 Ibs dolomite and 1-1/2 Ibs Micromax/yd.
Fertilization rate was 1800 Ibs N/A/yr from 19-6-12 Osmocote applied as
14 g/pot/3 months. Plants had been irrigated 2 to 3 times/week as needed
and grown under 63% shade with 450F minimum in winter and 1000F maximum
Simulated shipping treatments consisted of 45 or 650F temperature, for
2 or 4 weeks and packaging with (1) no packaging, (2) plants enclosed in
2 mil plastic and (3) plants enclosed in 2 mil perforated plastic. Plants
were maintained in darkness during simulated shipping and relative humidity
was between 75 and 85%.
Heavy leafdrop and death of some terminal shoots were observed on Ficus
benjamin removed from 450F simulated shipping after 2 weeks and this was
more severe after 4 weeks (Table 1). After removal from simulated shipping,
plants were held for an additional 30 days under an interior environment
of 150 ft-c 12 hours/day, 750F temperature and relative humidity of 50 to 60%.
At the end of the 30 day period, all plants held at 450F for 4 weeks were
dead while those held for 2 weeks were unsalable but alive (Table 1). Plants
maintained at 650F were not of high quality after 4 weeks due to leafdrop
but 2 week plants were acceptable.
Experiment 2. April 20, 1982, 3 foot tall Ficus benjamin in 6 inch
containers were selected for a second temperature study. Trees were 9 months
1Professor and Center Director and Professor, Plant Physiology, ARC-Apopka,
Rt. 3 box 580, Apopka, Fl 32703, respectively.
old from cuttings and were grown in the same manner as those in Experiment
1, except for shade level which was 73%.
Plants were boxed and sleeved April 20th and placed in simulated
shipping for 14 days at 35, 45, 55 or 650F. After removal from simulated
shipping, plants were placed in an interior environment as in Experiment
1 for 60 days.
Plant grade measured 60 days after simulated shipping was best on
plants held at 55 or 650F and leafdrop was also lowest for these treat-
ments (Table 2). Plants which were held at 350F were dead, while those
from 450F treatments lost most of their terminal leaves.
Experiment 3. September 11, 1981, Ficus benjamin cuttings 4 to 6
inches tall were potted into 8 inch containers and utilized to establish
a 3 x 3 factorial experiment of production shade and fertilizer levels.
Shade levels were 47, 63 and 80% and fertilizer levels were 1800, 3600,
or 5400 Ibs N/A/yr from 19-6-12 Osmocote applied to the surface each
3 months (10, 20 and 30 g/pot/3 months). Potting medium was sedge peat:
maon sand (3:1) and was amended with 7 Ibs dolomite and 1 lb Micromax/
yd'. Plants were irrigated as needed (2 to 3 times per week) and temper-
atures maintained between 45F minimum in winter and 100F maximum in
The production phase of the experiment was completed September 21,
1982, when plant height and grades were determined. Best plant grades
and greatest height was achieved under 47 or 63% shade, while increasing
fertilizer level did not have a large influence on either parameter
September 23, 1982, plants were sleeved, boxed and placed in dark
simulated shipping at 450F for 14 days. Upon removal from storage,
plants were placed in an interior environment as in Experiment 1 and
2 for 60 days and total leafdrop tabulated from weekly counts (Table 3).
Ficus in all treatments were injured at 450F simulated shipping temperatu
with production fertilizer level having no effect on grade. Leafdrop was
correlated with original shade level and plant grade, in that best plants
had more leaves and even though more leaves dropped, plants grown in 47
and 63% shade were still of highest quality.
Summary. Ficus benjamin, although fairly cold tolerant when growing
in the landscape, cannot be container grown and stored or shipped at a
temperature of 450F or below when exposed for 2 weeks or more. We have
also observed chilling damage at 500F on summer grown plants when shipped
for 4 weeks (Table 3).
Shade and fertilizer levels within the range tested do not seem to
prevent chilling damage to the extent that they would be commercially
beneficial, therefore, recommended shade and fertilizer levels for
production of this crop remain 47 to 63% shade and 1800 to 2400 lb
N/A/yr from a 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer.
These data plus other simulated and actual shipping experiences with
this crop indicate that 550F is the best year-round shipping temperature
for 2 to 4 week durations. Shipping temperatures of 60 to 650F are
satisfactory for shipments of 1 week duration or less.
1. Conover, C. A. and R.
long-term shipping of
2. Poole, R. T.
T. Poole. 1983. Environmental factors influencing
tropical foliage plants. Nurserymen's Digest
and C. A. Conover. 1982. Influence of cultural conditions
shipping of Ficus benjamin L. Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc.
3. Poole, R. T. and C. A. Conover. 1983.
environments on foliage plant quality.
Table 1. Quality of Ficus benjamin during simulated
y b temperature and duration (Expt. 1).
Influence of simulated shipping
shipping as affected
Temperature Duration Plant During Post
(F) (wk) Grade1 Storage Storage
45 2 1.7 489 146
4 1.0 669 534
65 2 3.3 78 19
4 2.3 466 462
1Plant Grade; 1=poor, 3=fair salable and 5=excellent quality
Table 2. Effect of simulated shipping temperature for 14 days and leafdrop
and grade of Ficus benjamin (Expt. 2).
Temperature (oF) Leafdrop Gradel
35 217 1.0
45 80 2.4
55 9 4.3
65 18 4.4
1Plant Grade; 1=poor, 3=fair salable, 5=excellent quality
Table 3. Influence of production shade and fertilizer levels
postshipping effects on Ficus benjamin (Expt. 3).
on growth and
Shade level Nitrogen Production 1i
(% lb/A/yr Ht (cm) Grade Leafdrop
47 1800 155 4.4 418
47 3600 151 4.6 476
47 5400 164 5.0 531
63 1800 152 4.4 355
63 3600 152 4.6 288
63 5400 135 4.4 264
80 1800 120 3.0 167
80 3600 124 3.6 208
80 5400 128 3.8 197
Plant Grade; 1=poor, 3= fair salable, 5=excellent quality