Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

Roxburgh Fig 

Ficus auriculata
San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas, California

I spent many days in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Huntington Library and Gardens looking for the perfect tree to paint. There were so many wonderful species that it was impossible to choose one and I started to do sketches and study pages for several of them. Then one day I went to the San Diego Botanic Garden. It was my first visit there. There were so many visitors that day that I had to park in an additional parking lot. The first plant I saw next to that parking lot was a Roxburgh fig, which I had never seen before. The tree looked very unusual – it was all covered with large clusters of fruits on the branches, the trunk, and even on the roots. That tree attracted me so much that I spent over an hour observing it from all sides.


The fruits looked quite dull from a distance, but a closer look gave me a very different impression. Young fruits were green. As they ripened, they would turn yellow, brown or red with a lot of hues. The leaves, on the other hand, were changing from reddish brown to green as they grew larger. Many ripe fruits were scattered on the ground, covered with a thick layer of large dry leaves.


It was unclear to me initially how to paint all those dots on the fruits and the texture, so I tried to use  masking fluid, which I haven't used before in my work and this was so interesting for me. I didn’t have enough patience to make a preliminary composition before starting the artwork. I painted the fruits first on the left side of the paper, and I thought that if I succeeded with the texture and colors, I would add a branch with young leaves and a part of the trunk.


I used a few layers of masking fluid to isolate the dot pattern and many layers of watercolors. The painting was almost completed, but I felt that I needed one more detail in the composition. I went again to the Botanic Garden with my son to observe the tree. A staff member came to us for a small talk. She told me that the fruits were inedible; she picked one from the ground, cut it in half, and we saw white latex drops appearing on the surface. That was the perfect finishing detail to add to my work!


Roxburgh fig grows all over Asia. It is also known as Elephant Ear Fig Tree for its big leaves. The leaves are used as plates. Although I was told the fruits are not edible, it turns out they are consumed as food. They are also used in medicine. I’m so inspired by that unusual tree that I plan to paint it again.

Read more about this artist’s work: 20th Annual International
  • © 2017 Olga Ryabtsova
    Roxburgh Fig
    Ficus auriculata
    Watercolor on paper
    18" x 26"