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WSU’s Big Fig

Addy Hatch | WSU Marketing and Communications
July 8, 2024

PULLMAN – Washington State University’s three-story-tall rubber fig tree might be the largest indoor specimen of Ficus elastica in the United States.

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An office building in Australia claims bragging rights for the tallest indoor rubber fig in the world.

Unfortunately, there’s no real proof in either case. Neither tree is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records. And the rubber fig trees entered in an international database, Monumental Trees, are all outdoor specimens.

But given that most indoor rubber trees top out at 10 feet, it’s safe to say WSU’s big fig is unique.

It’s also been a touchstone for students, faculty, and staff for more than 60 years. “It’s definitely something to be proud of,” said Amanda Linskey, plant growth facilities manager at the WSU School of Biological Sciences.

The India rubber fig snakes up the large-windowed public atrium in Cleveland Hall on the Pullman campus, supported by a metal rod through the second story. It could be taller, but the metal rod would have to be extended, and there’s no funding for that, Linskey said.

Ficus tree in the atrium of Cleveland Hall on the campus of Washington State University (photo by WSU Photo Services).

“At this point we’ve just been pruning it back, maintaining it there,” she said.

Over time the plant has all but concealed the building’s dramatic midcentury light fixture in the stairwell.  The fixture’s “thin, original dangling light shades today are best seen in period photos,” notes the Society of Architectural Historians.

The gigantic plant began life as a small potted version when the building was dedicated in 1962 as the home of the College of Education. The longtime dean of the college, George Brain, took care of it for many years.

Starting in 1987 those duties fell to Linskey’s predecessor, Charles Cody. Linskey has managed its care for the past three years.

Keeping the plant thriving is a big job, she added. It needs to be pruned each year to make sure it doesn’t outgrow its metal support rod, and to keep leaves and branches off the stair handrails. With each pruning comes a big, sticky mess as the plant’s latex-like sap drips onto the ground.

The stories around the plant are legend. And mostly, shall we say, fanciful.

Brandon Chapman, director of marketing and communications for the College of Education, sits just off the main foyer where the tree is located. Some of the claims he’s heard include:

  • Cleveland Hall was built around the tree. (Nope)
  • WSU will construct another story onto Cleveland Hall when the tree reaches the ceiling. (Wrong)
  • Cleveland Hall is kept at a warmer temperature to help the tree thrive (Again, no, though Linskey says the building is warm because “it has some heating issues.”

Chapman said it doesn’t really matter that the tree attracts tall tales, because it also makes memories.

He said, “A plant that goes up seemingly from an abyss to the heavens deserves the recognition of an adoring public.”

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