Native to southern China, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia, Ficus elastica is a species of evergreen tropical tree that makes for an excellent houseplant: It is tolerant of indoor light conditions, and NASA has even recommended its air-purifying properties. What’s more, the plant boasts an unusual history. Along with Hevea brasiliensis, it has been used for its latex sap to make rubber—hence its nicknames, rubber fig, and rubber tree; in tropical Northeastern India, Ficus elastica roots are even used to make incredible “living bridges”! A dead tree trunk is placed across a river, and the Ficus elastica roots are guided along the trunk. As the trunk rots, the roots grow to the other side and thicken, and more roots are trained to complete the now wind- and flood-resistant bridge.
The Ficus elastica’s family, Moraceae, is a family of shrubs, trees, and lianas; they are known for bleeding a latexy sap upon wounding, and exhibiting “foliar polymorphisms.” This means that their leaf shapes will be different for different stages of life, which is a unique and special feature, as most other plants exhibit the same leaf shapes throughout their lives.
How much sunlight does a Rubber Tree need?
The Rubber Tree needs at least six to eight hours of light daily. This can be lower light at times, but it is best to give this species medium to bright light, preferably bright indirect. If your windows receive harsh direct sun, placing a sheer curtain over it can help diffuse the light. You can tell if the Rubber Tree is not receiving enough light by the color on its leaves, which will begin fading.
How often should you water a Rubber Tree?
It is best to water your Rubber Tree every 1-2 weeks, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Opt for the more frequent end of the range when the plant is receiving more light, such as in spring or summer, and in the fall or winter, reduce the frequency.
If the plant’s leaves begin curling inward or the potting mix is dry, this is a sign you need to water it more often. Conversely, if the leaves begin dropping or the potting mix is wet, you should decrease the frequency of your watering schedule.
Do Rubber Trees need humidity?
The Rubber Tree is quite unfussy when it comes to humidity—it can tolerate any level, including normal room humidity.
What temperature does a Rubber Tree prefer?
It is best to aim for a temperature of 65°F to 85°F (18°C-30°C) for your Rubber Tree, and not let it go below 60°F (15°C). Remember, this plant is native to warm jungle climates!
How big does a Rubber Tree get?
Outdoors, this plant can reach an ultimate height of about 30 ft. (10 meters) and will have a spread of about 10 ft. (3.2 meters) over the years. Grown indoors, it will still be somewhat large, likely reaching 6 to 10 ft. or 2 to 3 meters, if provided the proper conditions.
Are Rubber Trees easy to care for?
The Rubber Tree is generally a very easygoing plant. Aside from giving it the light and water it needs, you will only need to ensure it does not get plant pests such as scale or mealybugs. If so, treat immediately with weekly sprays of horticultural (Neem) oil, as well as regular wipe-downs of the plant.
Are Rubber Trees safe for pets?
This plant is not a pet-friendly houseplant; it's considered toxic due to its milky sap. It is poisonous to cats, dogs, and humans if consumed. The best practice is always to keep these houseplants out of reach of small children and pets.