The rubber plant (Ficus Elastica), is a plant belonging to the fig genus and is endemic to South and Southeast Asia. It is an enormous evergreen tree, growing up to 100–130 feet tall, with an almost 7 feet diameter trunk. Aerial and reinforcing roots develop from trunks to secure it to the soil and help support its heavy branches.
It has broad shiny oval 4 to 14-inch green leaves that are about 2–6 inches wide. Leaves are usually larger on young plants, sometimes almost 17 inches long, and much smaller (4 inches long) on older trees. The flowers are not much to look at and the oval fruit is small, about ½ an inch long, and yellow-green.
It gets its name from the sticky white latex sap of the plant, which has been made into a low-quality rubber, but commercial rubber is manufactured and produced from another tree, Hevea brasiliensis.
Is known to have large dark green leaves, but there are also many varieties of colorful rubber plants, including some with variegated leaves.
It’s better to start growing them when they are young as they can adjust better to indoor life. Grow the plants in pots to restrict their growth if you want them to stay small. Rubber trees are superb indoor plants since they are tolerant of low light and humidity, and help purify indoor air.
Prefer lots of bright light but direct sunlight can cause leaf burn. Plants that do not receive enough light will become gangly, with lower leaves dropping off, and leaves become dull instead of shiny and effervescent green.
Variegated plants require more light as low light will cause leaves to revert to green or become dull.
Water once every 1 to 2 weeks, letting the topsoil become dry between watering. Increase the rate if the plant is in bright light and during warmer months. Twice a month might be enough in winter – keep an eye out for droopy leaves indicating that it needs watering.
Over-watering is the biggest problem for the rubber plant and will make the leaves become yellow or brown and start falling off. Rubber plants are also affected by under-watering as they are not drought tolerant.
They are not that picky about humidity levels – average room humidity is sufficient. Mist the leaves if the air is dry, particularly in winter.
Prefers temperature ranges between 60 – 75°F. While they are hardy, tolerating low temperatures of 50°F, it’s best to avoid temperature drops below that as growth will be affected.
Dislike their roots being water-logged, so it’s important to use well-draining soil in the pots, similar to what cacti prefer. Top up soil when roots become exposed after some time due to the plant extracting nutrients from the soil.
The plant prefers to be a bit root-bound and it’s best not to put rubber plants in larger pots – pots that are about an inch bigger than the old pot is always a good rule to follow in repotting.
Grow quickly in good conditions and have to be repotted annually until the plant reaches the desired height. Big plants are difficult to report, so if your plant is too heavy to move, simply top off the pot with fresh soil.
Are usually propagated from cuttings although it might take several tries to succeed. Cut off a suitable branch, wait for the sap to become dry and a callus to form, and then insert in soil and wait for roots to take. Dip the cutting in rooting powder for a better success rate.
Air layering is another method to propagate the plant. Make a partial cut in a healthy branch, insert a piece of straw or toothpick to create a gap in the cut, then cover the cut with damp moss/soil.
Wrap this with plastic and tie it off to keep moisture in. Cut off the branch below the plastic once roots start to appear, remove the plastic and plant.
Are pretty hardy, but there are a few requirements needed to take care of them. Having sufficient light, moist but not water-logged soil, sufficiently diluted fertilizer to keep it thriving in the warmer months, and regular misting to keep the leaves clean.
In addition to this, a wooden stake is needed to support the plant as it grows taller and keep it growing straight.
Remove dead or faded leaves to boost new growth, keeping the plant healthy and preventing disease.
Don’t need to be pruned unless you want to shape them. However, wait for the plant to reach the desired height before pruning off the top growth. The plant will start branching out and you can begin to prune into the shape you like. Prune branches just above nodes to make smaller branches appear and help make the plant bushier.
Make sure you use gloves when pruning the plant to prevent the sap from irritating your skin and clean your tools properly afterward with warm water and soap to remove the latex.
While it is normally a very undemanding and disease-resistant plant, it can still be attacked by pests such as scale, mites, aphids, and mealybugs. Treat infestations as soon as they appear with regular spraying of the leaves thoroughly with organic Neem oil.
Inspect leaves and remove dust by wiping the leaves – sooty mold can sometimes infest the leaves and can be removed by simply washing the affected leaves with soapy water.
Color fading from leaves is a sign of insufficient light. Move the plant to another location, taking care while doing this as this can cause leaf drop. Rubber plants are most prone to diseases linked with over-watering, which also causes leaf drop, while under-watering will make the leaves curl inward.