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rubber tree - Extension Service - Community Services - Seminole County Government - Florida
Rubber Tree
#44; 2005

Sanford, Fla., July 21, 2005 - The common Indian Rubber Tree, considered by many just a beautiful indoor plant, is the same plant used as a source of latex from which rubber was made before the Brazilian rubber tree was discovered. To make it more interesting, the India Rubber tree is a close relative of the edible fig. Both plants belong to the genus Ficus which includes more than 1,000 different species that vary considerable in appearance, from large tropical trees, shrubs, trailing epiphytes and climbers. In spite of the great variation, they share some similarities, such as the inflorescence, the shape of the fruits and the milky sap they contain.

A unique fruit: The manner in which flowering, pollination, and fruit formation are brought about in the Fig Tree is unique in the plant kingdom. The greatly thickened, fleshy receptacle develops into a pocket-shaped socket containing unisexual flowers male flowers develop at the top, the female flowers below. An opening or “eye” located at the fruit apex allows water and insect to penetrate the fruit. The opening is used by a special fig wasp known to be needed for pollination in the case of edible figs. If water gets inside the fruit it may result in rotting of the fruits. Common edible types recommended for Florida do not require pollination to develop and mature fruits.

The tree: The Indian Rubber Tree is a tropical plant that can be severely damaged by frost. In tropical areas, it can grow up to 50 feet tall and is used as a street tree, shade tree, hedge, indoors, and bonsai. The leaves are up to 1 foot long, oval, leathery, dark green, and glossy. Young leaves are sheathed in red stipules, which soon drop. The cultivars of this tree do not branch readily. Indoors, in bright light it will grow to an imposing height of 10 feet.

Varieties: The green-leaved forms are “Decora”, with very shiny, fairly broad leaves, new leaves are maroon, shading to a deep glossy green as they mature; “La France”, with smaller leaves and a twisted tip; “Robusta”, with very broad leaves and leaf nodes growing closer together, giving the plant a compact appearance. The variegated varieties are “Doescheri”, with clearly marked foliage with white margins, with a reddish center vein and leaf stalk; “Tricolor” with irregular cream, pale, and dark green patches; “Schryveriana” has narrower leaves, finely marbled in dark, pale green and yellowish white, the palest zones have stippled markings.

Care: Ficus in general dislike being moved, they may drop leaves if environment changes occur. They are very sensitive to changes in temperature and are also to wet or cold feet. Figs grow well at temperatures between 55 degrees to 80 degrees F and can tolerate 40 degrees F without damage. Average humidity should be above 25%. Grow them near a bright east or south window. Variegated varieties, because the yellow portions of the leaves do not contain chlorophyll, have higher light requirements than green-leaved varieties. Fertilize once a month only after new leaves appear and discontinue feeding the plant in the fall. Large plants need to be repotted every second or third year, and often it is sufficient to replace the top layer of compost. Repotting is done usually around February. Water only after the surface of the potting mixture is dry but never allow it to dry out completely.

Propagation: The rubber tree can be propagated from cuttings and air-layering. Cuttings should be taken in spring, use tip or sideshoots with a maximum of three to four leaves removed in pruning. Prevent sap flow by dipping the cutting in water or charcoal powder. The cut on the parent plant must be sprinkled with white sand or charcoal powder. Cuttings can be obtained by cutting the stems ½ inch above and below a leaf. This gives you a cutting with a node, a leaf stalk, and a leaf. Rooting powder will speed up the process and checks the sap flow.

Pests and diseases: Too much sunlight or drafts often lead to attacks by red spider mites or thrips. Under warm temperatures and dry atmosphere mealy bugs or scales insects can become a problem.

Al Ferrer
Seminole County Urban Horticulturist

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