In Danger of Extinction- The Office Building Ficus

by | Jan 10, 2019 | 2 comments

When trees are cut down in the rain forest, the hue and cry from the masses is deafening, as it should be. But did you know that there are large rain forest trees being cut down in an office building or mall near you? Is that surprising to you? Have you ever been to the mall and sat under one of those large trees to rest your feet after a marathon shopping spree? I used to do that when I shopped with my daughters, until they removed the trees. I was completely enamored by the huge ficus trees that arose from the floors, and planting beds full of “houseplants”, adding a touch of greenery to the otherwise stark environment. I was devastated when I went to the mall and they were gone. I guess I took them for granted. Had I known in advance, maybe I could have voiced my opinion or rallied the troops to stage a demonstration. If I remember correctly, which is hard sometimes at this age, I did write a note to the mall voicing my dismay at the removal of the trees. Trees speak to me. I grew up in a rural area of Michigan with woods and fields surrounding my childhood home. My brothers and I played in the woods, climbed trees and even built a fort around a large maple in our yard. We recently moved my mom from that home and saying good bye to those trees was hard for me. When my husband and I looked for a house, we looked for a home in an older neighborhood that had mature trees. New subdivisions planted with immature trees were not a choice for us.

Office building plantings in an office building near me with ficus, spathiphyllum lilies and crotons

In 2000 I landed my dream job taking care of plants in offices, for Detroit’s premier office plant provider, Planterra. I loved taking care of the plants in commercial settings and never felt more welcome in a room than when I walked into an office to take care of plants. “PLANT LADY!”, one man would yell across a car showroom where I cared for the plants. EVERY time. People love plants and always had questions for me about their personal plants on their desks as well as about the plants I was taking care of. Until I worked for Planterra, I had never had cause to enter those large office buildings. I was a stay at home mom and certainly was not in the business world unless it was the diaper changing, classroom mom, business. I was blown away by the large plants, and often entire atriums full of plants where employees could sit and eat their lunches or simply recharge away from their desk for a few minutes.

Ficus with a bed of pothos underneath

Unfortunately, those big trees, usually ficus, are disappearing from these commercial settings. Why? Many of these buildings are undergoing major renovations and while they are “updating” they decide the plantings need to be updated as well, or removed altogether and never replaced, or replaced with–wait for it……. fake plants. YUCK! I realize fabricated plants are necessary when light levels are insufficient for plant life, but it is ludicrous when they are used where light levels could support a beautiful array of plants. Besides, fake plants completely miss the point of why real plants are used in an interior environment. Plants improve air quality, absorb sound, improve moods, and in an office setting, improve productivity and reduce sick leave days. Obviously, fabricated plants are not doing the same thing. They are merely dust collectors and only last a few years before they start to deteriorate and need to be replaced.

The picture below is an atrium planted with large trees in the 80’s by Planterra. The huge windows in the roof are the perfect environment for growing these large gorgeous ficus trees. The employees at Planterra also take meticulous care of these plants, making sure they are pruned and given everything they need to thrive. The picture below is the Galleria office building in 1984.

Galleria circa 1984 ( Photo: Planterra archives)

The picture below is the same scene in 2014, 30 years later. As you can see these ficus trees were well taken care of and added stunning beauty to the area. I use the past tense, as these ficus trees have been cut down and removed.

Galleria circa 2014 ( Photo: Planterra archives)

I called Planterra to ask them about the removal/massacre of these large ficus trees and talked to Larry Pliska,  president of Planterra, who recently posted a very informativ Q & A blog on the subject titled Ficus Myths Debunked. I asked him why is it so important to save these large trees? Can’t more be shipped up from Florida? Larry informed me that these large trees are harder to procure than they used to be. The growers that specialized in these large trees are retiring and selling their land. It is hard to maintain the large shade cloth houses with hurricanes that have been occurring more regularly and the houses are needed to acclimate the trees to northern light levels. The height of these large trees cannot be replicated. It takes years to grow a good sized ficus. It also takes much longer for a tree to mature inside than outside. We all know how crazy our houseplants grow outside during the summer only to slow down when they return indoors. Why would the company want to cut them down? Big trees never go out of fashion; Instagram and Facebook are proof of that. We all know when we go to the garden center, the larger trees are always more expensive. They have more years of growth and maintenance to warrant the extra money spent, but the money is worth it for the instant gratification. The ficus trees at the Galleria were perfectly trimmed and maintained to ensure they were healthy trees that would grow and add beauty for many years. Sadly, the new owners of the Galleria did not see that value.

Perfectly trimmed ficus (Photo: Planterra archives)

The picture below is, unfortunately, the view of the Galleria today after a major remodel. The update involved the removal of those beautifully maintained ficus trees and replacements with fabricated ficus that will never grow and will stay the same size forever… was a massacre of lovely large trees that can never be replaced. They certainly aren’t providing a beautiful canopy to sit under or look over from the offices on the upper floors. I know the Planterra family was saddened by the loss, especially since they had installed them and nurtured them for over 30 years.

Galleria today (Photo:  Friedman Real Estate)

Do you have a mall or office building where you enjoy the plants and trees? Have you ever considered what would happen if they were removed or cut down? Let’s hope this practice will stop and the value of these large trees will be appreciated before it is too late.

More From My Blog

Leave a Comment


  1. Bob Stewart

    Hi Lisa, I also started my horticultural career as the horticulturist for an interior plant company in suburban Washington, D.C. This is where I really begin to learn about diagnosis plant problems, as I was the one who had to go out to accounts where there were plant problems. Our company had installed 20 18ft Ficus benjamina trees at the Xerox training center in northern Virginia. I remember for the first month or two after installation, when I visited the site part of my equipment was a bushel basket and a leaf rake. I will always remember raking up baskets of ficus leaves from the beautifully carpeted atrium. All the trees adjusted nicely and created a miniature tropical forest within the building, Just wonderful. I have a 6ft weeping fig tree in my house and just love how it brings a little of the outside in. Sorry to hear the transition to plastic plants. Sad. I only spent two years in the interior business before moving on the the university, but I really learned a lot and loved the work. I even got called to the White House several time by the park service to help with problems with interior plants there. Great fun and great memories. Great blog. I try to stop by and read the latest entry whenever I can. Stay green! Bob


      Thanks for the comments and compliment, Bob! I appreciate it. I worked at Planterra for a year and I loved it. Unfortunately, my back didn’t appreciate the job. It is sad they are replacing these gorgeous old trees. How exciting you got to go to the White House. Sounds like you had some great experiences. Thanks again! Definitely stay green!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest