Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) occupies a prominent place in world agricultural history, while at the same time it is an important economic cultivation.

It is used in a variety of ways – in the past it has been the main source of rubber production – but here, in this article, we will only deal with its ornamental side.

The other sides will be covered in time, in a multitude of unique and special tributes – if we have health and time.

For the last two, the commitment of the editorial team of ‘Kalliergeia’ is absolute, for the tributes, we simply refer to our well-known already (in)consistency.

Rubber Plant Origin

Ficus elastica (Rubber Plant) Map of Origin
Ficus elastica (Rubber Plant) Map of Origin

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) in Sitia of Crete Island - Greece
Ficus elastica in Sitia of Crete Island - Greece

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Brief Description

Scientific name

Ficus elastica Roxb. ex Hornem.

Common name(s)

Rubber Plant, Rubber Fig, Indian Rubber Tree, Indian Rubber Bush, Indian Rubberplant, Karet-Tree, Rubber Fig Tree

General characteristics

Type of foliage: Evergreen

Form: Tree of spreading canopy shape

Texture: Coarse

Height: 15-23 m (50-75 ft)

Height indoors: 0.90-3 m (3-10 ft)

Diameter: 10-15 m (30-50 ft)

Growth rate (Tropics): Fast

Growth rate Indoors: Moderate

Flowering period (Tropics): Sporadically through the year

Flowering period indoors: Extremely rare

Fruiting period: Sporadically through the year

Shapes and colours

Bark: Pale Grey

Leaves shape: Oblong to elliptic

Foliage colour: Green

Foliage colour in autumn: Green

Flowers: In Syconium – not showy

Flowers colour: Creamy – white

Fruit: Fig

Plantation

Soil type: Well-drained, sand, loam

Exposure: Sun, Half-shade

Soil pH: 5-8.3

Watering: Moderate

Hardiness: 1.7 °C (35 °F – USDA Hardiness zone 10b)

Uses

Specimen, urban planting, parks, highway median, bonsai, pots and containers indoor and outdoor

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) at the Capital of Brasil - Brasília
Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) at the Capital of Brasil - Brasília

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Etymology

Etymology of the genus name: For the etymology of the name of the genus, we urge the so understanding reader to click HERE and go to Ficus lyrata where there wil find no lost objects and such things but a complete interpretation.

Etymology of the species name: The name of the elastica species is the  Neo-Latin version of the Ancient Greek words ‘ἐλαστής, ἐλαστός’, both produced by the also Ancient Greek, ‘ἐλαύνειν, ἐλαύνω’. These in turn come from the Indo-European *h₁el- which means ‘to drive, set in motion, push, strike, beat out’. The ἐλαστός is another form of the adjective ‘ἐλατός’, interpreted as that if exercises on it a power it changes its shape and form without breaking’. That is, the word elastica accurately attributes the capability of the plant sap (rubber) from which car tires and other similar manufactured goods can be produced.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Origin & Life span

Origin: The Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia are the cradle of Rubber Plant. In particular, its countries of origin are Northern India, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Malaysia and Indonesia. There, it is found in a variety of tropical environments, such as the vegetation zones of tropical shrubland, woodland and rainforest. 

In its natural niches, the average monthly upper temperature is 30 °C (86 °F), while the average annual rainfall is between 1000 and 2000 mm.

Life Span: Rubber Plant as an ornamental lives from 25 to 50 years. When native to the tropical regions of the planet can reach up to the age of 200 – not at all bad performance.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Morphological Elements

Rubber Plant is an evergreen tree of fast and large growth when it is in the natural state, having a height that often exceeds 25 m (82 ft). When grown, the annual growth rate is moderate and does not exceed a height of 15 m (50 ft).

It consists of many trunks and of a spherical or hemispherical shape canopy, which is symmetrical with an irregular outline. Its foliage is very dense, has a coarse texture and an upright or rarer spreading appearance. As an indoor plant it acquires significantly smaller dimensions and has mainly upright habit.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) Mature Fruits - Figs or Syconiums
Mature Fruits - Figs or Syconiums

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Botanical Description

Roots: Rubber Plant is another typical epiphyte plant. It grows on the branches of various tropical tree species and develops aerial blastogenic roots, that penetrate the soil. The aerial part of these roots becomes trunkish ‘strangling’ the host tree. In cultivation, it often develops an extensive surface root system.

Trunk: In its natural state it has many trunks and smooth bark of dark pale grayish color.

Branches & Twigs: They are usually droop or rarer upright, slightly exfoliated having an initial greenish brown color which when mature becomes greenish gray.

Leaves: The leaves of the Rubber Plant are large, simple and leathery, nice green in color. They are relatively thick, acuminate at apex and have a round base. Their shape is elongated, ovoid or elliptic, mainly arranged alternately, their length being between 8 and 30 cm (3.1-12 in) and their width between 5 and 15 cm (2-6 in). Their petioles are leathery, yellowish – brown to black and have a length of 2.5 to 5 cm (1-2 in).

Flowers: The flowers are produced in the interior of an axillary inflorescence and they have a creamy white color. The males consist of 4 sepals of ovate shape and bear a solitary stamen with ovoid anther. The females consist of 4 ovate-shaped sepals and have a short style with papillate stigma.

Pollination: Ficus elastica is exclusively pollinated by the wasp Blastophaga clavigera Mayr, 1885 – syn. Pleistodontes claviger (Mayr, 1885).

Fruit: The fruits of Ficus elastica are within the special fleshy stem of all the Ficus, the syconium, and is a plethora of ovate achenes. Two obovoid syconiums per node are formed – 1 to 2 cm (0.4-0.8 in) long and 0.5 to 0.8 cm (0.2-0.3 in) thick – which, when mature, are red.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Latex Harvest From a Plantation of Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) in Indonesia - © Manfred Mielke, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Latex Harvest From a Plantation of Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) in Indonesia - © Manfred Mielke, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Climate and Soil

Temperature: Ficus elastica, as plant of the tropical regions, is cold intolerance. The minimum temperatures, which are also the lowest tolerance limit, range between 4 and 1.7 °C (40-35 °F). 

With high temperatures, Rubber Plant’s behavior is excellent as it does not have problems. 

Soil and pH: Rubber Plant grows in a variety of soil types – excluding clay soils – provided they drain well but at the same time retain the necessary moisture. However, well-established plants have high drought tolerance.

In terms of pH, it grows in an extremely wide range of values ranging from 5 to 8.3, but it thrives on slightly acidic soils with values ranging from 6 to 6.5.

Exposure: Ficus elastica can be planted or placed both in full sun exposure or/and half-shaded areas. However, when cultivated as an indoor plant, it is recommended to always place it in extremely bright places.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Plant Protection

Rubber Plant does not often have serious problems from pests or diseases, but as with most plants of the genus, some parasites have their objections to this issue.

Pests: The most common pests include Whiteflies, Aphids, Thrips, Mealybugs, Scales and Root Knot Nematodes (Meloidogyne sp.). By using the appropriate insecticides and acaricides the treatment is satisfactory, except for nematodes whose populations are difficult to control.

Diseases: Anthracnose (Glomerella sp.), Twig Dieback (Phomopsis sp.) and Southern Blight (Athelia rolfsii) from fungi and Crown Gall (Agrobacterium tumefaciens) with Bacterial Leaf Spot (Xanthomonas campestris) from bacteria are the most common diseases of the plant. By using the appropriate fungicides their treatment is satisfactory for fungi, while the latter are extremely difficult to control.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Toxicity

The milky sap of Rubber Plant is slightly toxic to pets. In humans, on contact with the milky latex may result from simple irritation to severe dermatitis, with painful rashes. For this reason, it is advisable to avoid any work with the plant without to use gloves.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Varietis & Cultivars

Rubber Plant is familiar with worldwide spread as it has excellent ornamental features. This results in the breeding of decades varieties and cultivars of the species, the most important of which are listed below.

Green Leaves Varieties

Ficus elastica ‘Decora’: It has leathery and glossy dark dark green leaves, which initially have a bronze hue. Their length is between 20 and 30 cm (8-12 in) while their width is from 12 to 15 cm (4.7-6 in).

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus elastica 'Decora'
Ficus elastica 'Decora'

Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’: It differs from the typical species only in terms of the appearance and size of the leaves, which are brighter in green and more broad.

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus elastica 'Robusta'
Ficus elastica 'Robusta'

Variegate Leaves Varieties

Ficus Elastica ‘Burgundy’: It has burgundy leaves when exposed to full sun. It is more resistant to cold than the typical species with a minimum temperature at which it can be exposed without damaging the -1.1 °C (30 °F). It reaches the height of 2 to 3 m in the pot, while in the soil can exceed 12 m.

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus Elastica ‘Burgundy’
Ficus Elastica ‘Burgundy’

Ficus elastica ‘Doescheri’: Extremely decorative variety with green and cream-white leaves. It is also more resistant to cold than the typical species with a minimum temperature -1.1 °C, at which it can be exposed without damaging.

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus elastica 'Doescheri'
Ficus elastica 'Doescheri'

Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’: The colors of the leaves are pink, white and green, a combination of extremely attractive appearance. Planting in a pot reaches a height of 2 m.

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus elastica 'Ruby'
Ficus elastica 'Ruby'

Ficus elastica ‘Sylvie’: The pink, creamy and green shades of the leaves make this variety particularly decorative. Planting in a pot reaches a height of 1.2 to 1.8 m and a width of 0.9 to 1.2 m. It is more sensitive to cold than the typical species, with a minimum resistance limit of 4.4 °C (40 °F).

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus elastica 'Sylvie'
Ficus elastica 'Sylvie'

Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’: It has green leaves, with white and burgundy spots, which often dominate. Planting on the soil shows great tolerance to drought.

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus elastica 'Tineke'
Ficus elastica 'Tineke'

Ficus elastica ‘Tricolor’: The young leaves are green with pink shades, which gradually give their place in cream – whitish tones. And this variety tolerates a minimum temperature of up to -1.1 °C.

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus elastica 'Tricolor'
Ficus elastica 'Tricolor'

Ficus elastica ‘Variegata’: It has an attractive appearance due to the creamy yellow and green hues of the leaves, the central nerve of which is slightly red.

Varieties of Ficus elastica – Ficus elastica 'Variegata'
Ficus elastica 'Variegata'

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) – Description and Uses

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) as Interior in Extremely Colored Pot
Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) as Interior in Extremely Colored Pot

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - Use

Use as an indoor plant: Rubber Plant is a classic solution for interior decoration of both home and business spaces. Its truly impressive large leaves, green or variegated, as well as the minimal care it needs, give it to one of the most valuable plants in its class. In addition to decorative, it also has a functional value because it cleans the indoor air from the ever-dangerous toxic substance it hears in the name of formaldehyde.

Use in garden and landscape: In areas suitable for its growth, it can be planted both on the ground and in pots at sunny or half-shade exposures.

Thus, it could be said that Rubber Plant is being exploited:

  • As a tree of particular interest planted alone
  • In urban plantings of parks, highways median and streets without sidewalk
  • As a shade tree
  • In combination with other more or less exotic plants such as Elephant Ear (Caladium Carolyn Whorton’), Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox), Brazilian Plume (Justicia carnea) and Cape Jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides)

Related Posts

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) - References

Ficus elastica‘s References are presented, in a very flexible way, by the Elastica English band with their Stutter song, which is included in their album featuring the imaginative, really puzzling title Elastica.

  1. Bajaj, Y. (2010). Trees III.Berlin: Springer-Verlag Berlin and Heidelberg GmbH & Co.
  2. Burrows, J. E., & Burrows, S. (2003). Figs of southern & south-central Africa. Hatfield, South Africa: Umdaus Press.
  3. Florida, & Stokes, D. E. (1978). Foliar Nematode Infection to Ficus Elastica.
  4. Hamilton, P. (1991). The ABC’s of indoor ficus trees. Pacific Grove, CA: Park Place Publications.
  5. Kunkel, G. (1978). Flowering Trees in Subtropical Gardens. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
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