The Rubber tree is a gorgeous tropical plant that grows fast and has stunning glossy leaves. They have been used for centuries to extract latex.
About Rubber Tree Plants
Ficus elastica, also known as the rubber plant, is an unusual-looking plant native to the tropics of Southeast Asia. This long-living plant has oversized, oval-shaped leaves with a rich emerald tint and can grow quickly, easily reaching up to 100 feet tall in its natural habitat. It's not the easiest plant for beginners, though, because it's not very forgiving if it doesn't get the care it needs. However, it's often grown indoors as a houseplant, where it can be planted and cared for year-round, and its size is kept more manageable.
When it comes to growing a rubber plant, care is straightforward. It needs abundant light, moisture, and warmth (it is a tropical plant after all). Give it a southern or eastern exposure, but keep it several feet away from the windows, and you'll be rewarded with a stunning exotic addition to your indoor plant collection.
Rubber plant, rubber tree
50–100 ft. tall (outdoors), 50–100 ft. wide (outdoors)
Moist but well-drained
Toxic to dogs and cats
Getting to Know Rubber Tree Plants
While rubber trees are a pretty hardy species, they tend to be more challenging to care for than other tropical plants, and have a few specific care requirements they need in order to thrive. They need the right balance in their environment with lots of indirect light, moist (but not soggy) soil, and enough fertilizer to keep it healthy. Indoors it can grow about 10 feet tall, although outside, it can reach up to 100 feet in its natural habitat.
The most common varieties for growing indoors include Ficus elastica 'Tineke,' Ficus elastica 'Burgundy,' Ficus elastica 'Ruby,' and Ficus elastica 'Robusta.' They all grow well indoors when given the right conditions, such as ample sunlight, but not bright, direct sunlight that can easily scorch its leaves.
The rubber plant has waxy-looking leaves that start with a pink-coral hue, eventually deepening to dark rich green. As the rubber plant grows, it will begin to droop, so you must help support its leaves by using a long wooden dowel (or bamboo stalk) to help keep them upright.
How to Care for Rubber Tree
Basic Care for Rubber Tree Plants
Like most plants in their family, rubber plants love lots of bright, diffused, indirect light. They can tolerate soft morning sunlight but should be moved out of the line of harsh direct rays in the afternoon as they can scorch the leaves. Plants that do not receive sufficient light will become leggy, lose their lower leaves, and their leaf color will become dull instead of glossy and vibrant.
When it comes to their soil composition, rubber plants aren't picky. Typically, any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do—many indoor gardeners opt for a cactus soil blend mixed with some perlite and cocoa coir. In addition, rubber plants prefer a slightly acidic soil mixture. Like fiddle leaf fig trees (which many believe they resemble), they also "eat" their soil and will eventually have their roots exposed. When this happens, simply top your pot with additional soil and it will not be an issue.
Water your rubber plant frequently—they like to be kept steadily moist but not soaked. Rubber plants also are vulnerable to excessive dryness and don't tolerate drought well. To check if it’s time for another watering, check the moisture levels in the first few inches of soil—if they're dry and crumbly, it's probably time to water your plant again.
Feed the plant a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season (spring-summer). They are relatively heavy feeders when healthy. Some experts recommend only lightly fertilizing indoor plants to prevent stretching and plants becoming root-bound because they grow too fast.
Rubber Tree Pest and Diseases
Rubber plants are vulnerable to a variety of pests that typically infest indoor houseplants, including aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, scale, and even thrips. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat it with the least invasive option, like wiping the leaves with a humid cloth and a bit of neem oil.
How to Propagate Rubber Tree Plants
Rubber plants can be propagated from leaf-tip cuttings, but it is not particularly straight-forward and is probably easier to just buy a potted plant. If you take cuttings, use a rooting hormone and be vigilant about high humidity and plenty of warmth. Do not be discouraged if they do not propagate easily. Propagation by cutting is never easy, it is an inexact science that takes some time to master.
In order to have the best chance to propagate your rubber tree:
- Using a sterilized and sharp cutting tool, cut an entire stalk, including some leaflets.
- Remove the bottom leaves from the stem, and place the stalk in a moist soil mix (possibly “coating” the cutting in root hormone).
- Place in indirect light and keep humidity above 70%. Roots should start to form in a few weeks. Remember to water often but lightly to prevent rotting.
Rubber Tree Did You Know
- In the wild, the rubber tree will grow to heights of 100 to 130 feet, and can live up to 100 years
- Its most famous feature is the milky white sap, known as latex, which flows freely from the tree when a sliver of bark is removed.
- The fruit of the rubber tree explodes which releases and spreads the seeds as far as 30 meters away.
Rubber Tree Plant Varieties
- Ficus elastica 'Tineke' has light green leaves with white variegation, and is very common in warmer climates.
- Ficus elastica 'Burgundy' has glossy dark green to redish leaves and is thrives in shaded areas
- Ficus elastica 'Ruby' is a mix between ficus elastica Tineke and Burgundy. Its eaves are a deep ruby red, with variegations in lighter pink and green.
- Ficus elastica 'Robusta' is the biggest of all the “Elastica” family, and is often grown outdoors as it can grow extremely tall.
Rubber Tree Summary
Rubber tree are arguably one of the most spectacular indoor plants to grow, especially if you live in warm climates. This special plant, has glossy leaves that can have stunning variegated colors.
When it comes to automated plant care systems, rubber plants are one of the ones that usually struggles with them, as they require constant but light watering, plenty of light and humidity. Only truly smart plant care systems like KORU can adapt to each plant's different needs, helping them to thrive by measuring light, temperature, humidity and soil moisture.