Ultimate Guide to Rubber Tree Plants (Ficus elastica)

Rubber tree plants, or Ficus elastica, are attractive and low-maintenance options for indoor plant lovers. The tree’s vibrant and leathery leaves add a bold pop to any indoor space, and it grows large for those looking for a plant that makes a statement. Below, we’ll dive into everything from the plant’s origins and history to rubber plant care to keep it pest-free and happy for years to come.

Ultimate Guide to Rubber Tree Plants (Ficus elastica)

About the Rubber Tree Plant

Rubber Tree Plants Origins, History and Scientific Facts

The rubber tree plant is also commonly called the rubber plant, India rubber tree, rubber fig, or rubber bush. It gets this name because its sap produces a type of latex that was once used to make rubber.

Rubber Tree Plants Origins and History

The rubber tree plant is native to the eastern regions of south Asia and southeast Asia. The species has since become naturalized in other areas as well, growing in Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and Florida in the United States.

Scientific Facts about Rubber Tree Plants

The rubber tree plant’s botanical or scientific name is Ficus elastica. The plant is a member of the banyan group within the fig genus, where the name ficus comes from. They are related to other popular indoor plants like Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata) from the same genus.

Its plant family is Moraceae, a group of tropical flowering plants with over 1100 species. The different rubber tree varieties include plants with variegated leaves, reddish leaves, dwarf versions, and more. Here are several types of rubber tree plants:

  • Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Decora’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Melany’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Doescheri’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Tricolor’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Abidjan’
  • Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’
  • Dwarf Ficus elastica

The Most Popular Types of Rubber Tree Plants
Credit: The Sill

Of the varieties mentioned above, there are a few that are frontrunners in terms of popularity. Here are the most popular types of rubber tree plants to grow at home and the characteristics that set them apart.

  • Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’: This is a hardy variety of the rubber tree plant that grows large, leathery green leaves.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Decora’: This variety grows dark green leaves that are thick and glossy.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Burgundy’: Also known as the burgundy rubber tree, this rubber plant variety grows deep burgundy-toned leaves with bright red stems.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Tricolor’: This variety has colorful green leaves with splashes of pink and cream coloring.
  • Ficus elastica ‘Tineke’: This is the variegated variety of the Ficus elastica, with patchy dark and light green leaves, cream-colored edges, and a pink stem.

Rubber Tree Plant Uses

Rubber Tree Plant Uses

The milky latex found in Ficus elastica sap was once used to make rubber. However, these days, the Hevea brasiliensis or the Pará rubber tree is the primary source of latex used for making rubber.

Now, the rubber tree is primarily an ornamental plant. Although, in a few parts of the world, people have found innovative ways to use these indoor plants. In some parts of India, people guide the roots of a fully-grown rubber tree over deep ravines to create beautiful living bridges.

For more, see our in-depth guide to the amazing uses and benefits of Rubber Tree Plants.

The Benefits of Rubber Tree Plants

The Benefits of Rubber Tree Plants

Not only does the rubber tree plant make a striking decoration for your home, but it can also help purify the air in your indoor environment.

NASA tested a cousin of the rubber tree, Ficus benjamina, in their clean air study, proving it was helpful in removing formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from the air.

Rubber Tree Plants – Meanings & Symbolism

Rubber Tree Plants Meaning and Symbolism
Credit: Terrain

Feng shui practitioners can place the rubber tree plant in the wealth corner of the home, as teachings say this plant represents good luck and fortune. Its rounded leaves make it a great candidate for softening a sharp corner in your indoor space.

The plant’s wood element has its own set of benefits, as Feng shui claims wood represents originality, spirituality, trust, and growth.

Additionally, rubber tree plants are associated with the star sign of Virgo.

How to Grow Rubber Tree Plants at Home

How To Grow Rubber Tree Plants - Soil, Size and Light Preferences

Before you’re ready to grow your own rubber tree, you’ll want to learn the tools and practices for taking care of this plant. Below we’ll cover all of this, and more so you can grow a beautiful rubber tree plant at home.

What to Do Before Planting

Here are some steps you should take before you bring your rubber tree plant home:

  • Buy an appropriate pot and saucer to plant your rubber tree plant. You can use a decorative pot around the plant’s original pot or repot it in a larger planter.
  • Make sure you have the proper soil and tools for potting your rubber tree. We’ll cover these details later on in the guide.
  • Select a spot in your home where your plant can grow happy and tall. Read on to learn the conditions to look out for when choosing the perfect position for a rubber plant.
  • Choose a younger rubber tree when shopping for the perfect plant. Rubber tree plants adapt better to indoor growing conditions than more mature plants.

How to Plant Rubber Tree Plants

Rubber plants are a great low-maintenance indoor tree for new plant owners. However, there are still a few conditions you’ll want to maintain to keep your rubber tree happy. Here are a few requirements to keep in mind when planting your new rubber tree.

  • Choose a pot that is around one-third larger than your rubber tree’s root ball when repotting.
  • Terracotta is a suitable material choice, as it can help eliminate excess moisture. Make sure this pot has a drainage hole to remove excess water.
  • You can leave your rubber tree plant in its original pot when you bring it home unless you notice its roots are beginning to crowd. Eventually, it may prefer a larger terracotta or clay pot.

What’s the Best Soil Mix?

The best soil for your rubber tree will be a well-draining potting mix, as the plant does not enjoy sitting in moist soil. A soil with peat, sand, or perlite will allow the excess water to drain properly and keep your plant growing happily.

For more, see our essential guide to the best soil mix for Rubber Tree Plants.

How Big Will Rubber Tree Plants Grow

Rubber tree plants vary significantly in size. They come in dwarf sizes, around eight inches tall, and can reach over 100 feet high in their natural habitats.

The average indoor rubber tree plant can grow over six feet tall, though you can keep it smaller by restricting its pot size.

Light Preferences

Your rubber tree plant will enjoy bright indirect sunlight. It can tolerate direct sun and medium light as well, but it thrives best with high quantities of indirect lighting. Avoid low-light areas, such as rooms with north-facing windows.

How to Care for Rubber Tree Plants

How to Care for Rubber Tree Plants
Credit: Lively Root

Now, it’s time to learn more about rubber tree plant care. Once you know this plant’s care needs, it will be easy to keep your rubber tree growing beautifully for years to come.

Watering Preferences

You’ll know your rubber tree plant needs watering when its top layer of soil is dry. Water the plant enough for the water to come out of the drainage hole. Once the soil has drained, make sure to remove water from the saucer beneath the plant. This will help prevent root rot.

For more, see our essential guide to watering rubber tree plants at home.

Feeding Preferences

Your rubber tree plant will only need fertilizer during the growing season. Use a water-soluble plant fertilizer once a month during spring and summer. Half-strength houseplant fertilizer works well.

How to Prune Rubber Tree Plants

You will only need to prune your rubber tree plant if you notice dead or wilting leaves. You can shape the plant if you would like, but avoid trimming leaves from the top of the tree. Pruning during the growing season is best, but you can prune at any time of year if needed.

How to Propagate Rubber Tree Plants

You can propagate your rubber tree by cutting a stem off the plant with a pair of sharp pruning shears.

Choose a healthy stem with several leaves and make a clean cut. After cutting this stem, let it dry and dip it in rooting hormone. If your cutting has leaves toward the base, you’ll want to remove them for easier planting.

Now, plant the cutting in moist soil, and you have yourself a new mini rubber tree. Keep its environment warm and moist while it works on rooting into its new habitat.

When and How to Repot Rubber Tree Plants

How to Repot Rubber Tree Plants - Leon and George
Credit: Leon & George

Here are a few tips for repotting this indoor tree successfully.

  • Consider repotting your rubber tree plant if its roots start to poke through its drainage hole.
  • If you notice its roots creeping out in winter, wait until spring to repot the plant.
  • Repot your Ficus elastica in a pot about one inch larger than the previous one.
  • Your plant needs repotting in order to grow. With that said, if you prefer a smaller tree, you can restrict its size by leaving it in its smaller pot.

Rubber Tree Plants Pest and Disease Considerations

Rubber Tree Plants Pest and Disease Considerations

There are a few pest and disease considerations to keep in mind when caring for your rubber tree plant. Knowing the most common issues will help you make sure your plant stays healthy and thriving.

  • Spider mites: A spiderweb-like material is a sign of spider mites. Remove this plant from other houseplants and eliminate the infestation with insecticide.
  • Aphids: This bug is attracted to a rubber tree’s sap. You can spray a mixture of water and dish soap to remove the plant.
  • Scale: These insects also enjoy a rubber plant’s sap. You can remove them by hand or use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to remove them.
  • Leaf spots: This may be a sign of southern blight or another fungal issue. Treat soil with a fungicide to try and eliminate this issue.

Common Rubber Tree Plant Problems and How to Treat Them

Common Rubber Tree Plant Problems and how to treat them

There are a few other factors you’ll want to know to maintain optimal rubber tree plant care. With a few simple steps, your rubber tree plant will be a gorgeous focal point in any room.

  • Dust: As with any indoor plant, your rubber tree plant will collect dust over time. It’s a good idea to wipe its leaves gently with a damp cloth to remove the dust. Not only does this keep leaves glossy and vibrant, but it also ensures the plant can access more light.
  • Root rot: This common problem is a symptom of overwatering. Only water your plant when the soil is dry to avoid rot. If you notice root rot, gently cut away the affected area and adjust your watering schedule.

Rubber Tree Plants Toxicity

Rubber Tree Plant Toxicity
Credit: The Sill

Unfortunately, the rubber tree plant is mildly toxic to pets and humans. The plant has a milky sap in all its parts, and consuming it can lead to gastrointestinal issues.

Additionally, if this sap is left on the skin, it can cause irritation. To avoid this, you can use gloves when handling your plant.

Essential tools

Throughout this guide, we’ve mentioned several tools and materials you’ll want to have when growing and caring for a rubber tree plant. Here is a summary of the items we’ve covered:

  • Terracotta pot and saucer
  • Houseplant fertilizer
  • Well-draining soil
  • Cloth for removing dust from its leaves
  • Shears for pruning and propagating
  • Gloves for handling the plant

Final Thoughts

The rubber tree plant is an excellent choice for anyone searching for a tropical indoor tree. Its beautiful and robust varieties add color to your home without adding too much maintenance to your routine. Choose this as your next plant for a big and bold addition to your indoor foliage.

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