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RUBBER TREE

Ficus elastica

Ficus elastica is a species of evergreen tropical tree native to southern China, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. Belonging to the fig family, Moraceae, it was used for its latex sap to make rubber before synthetics were made available.

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However, the bulk of rubber made naturally comes from Hevea brasiliensis, a euphorb. Many plants contain substantial amounts of isoprene, but these two plants contain enough in their latexy sap to be used to make rubber. In addition to being useful for rubber, in tropical Northeastern India, F. elastica roots are used to make living bridges!!!

A dead tree trunk is put across a river, and the 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 bridge. The bridge, being alive, resists wind and flooding well, because it is flexible. Truly, this tree is elastic in more than one sense! Rubber trees make excellent houseplants, as they are low-light tolerant, and help clean the indoor air from pollutants.

The family Moraceae is a family of shrubs, trees, and lianas, all of which will bleed a latexy sap upon wounding. This latexy sap is a deterrent against herbivory, and is made up of numerous alkaloids. These alkaloids may trigger an allergic reaction in those sensitive to latex, or have a latex allergy. Members of this family exhibit foliar polymorphisms - leaf shapes will be different for different stages of life. This is a fairly odd characteristic, as most other plants make the same leaf shapes throughout their lives. Leaves are alternately arranged. Fruits of this family are multiple fruits, and are enclosed by either swollen sepals, receptacles, or both. Edibles plants of Moraceae include mulberry, breadfruit, and figs. Mulberries are also the only host and food for the silk moth, and are essential for producing silk.

Plants of genus Ficus are hemiepiphytes or strangler plants. Their fruits are eaten by birds, and the seeds are deposited in the canopy of the forest, in other tree branches, where they germinate. As the plant grows, the roots find their way to the forest floor, where they eventually penetrate the soil, and form a terrestrial root system. As the roots get bigger, they fuse to form a pseudo-trunk. Constriction, shading and root competition will eventually strangle the host tree and the strangler plant will develop into a free standing large tree with a hollow center, as the host rots away.