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Ficus elastica (Rubber Plant / Rubber Tree)

About the Rubber Tree Houseplant

Rubber plants need only basic care to look this good The Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) could be the houseplant for you if you want a tough but easy going indoor plant that can reach staggering heights within a few years.

While its size can still be tamed some what, you have to keep in mind it will eventually require a certain amount of space.

You may find this plant labeled as a Rubber Tree or Rubber Fig. The "rubber" aspect of its name comes from the "rubber" sap that oozes out of the glossy leaves and woody stems if they're scratched or cut.

There is often so much of it, that there is a drip factor which you need to be careful with. Also the milky latex is not particularly pleasant to humans or pets if the sap is swallowed and it's an irritant to the eyes and skin so treat it carefully.

On the plus side, Dr Wolverton ranks the Rubber Plant as one of the very best houseplants to clean the air. It also scores really well with resistance to pests and diseases and has a high transpiration rate which increases the humidity of the room it lives in.

The true Latin name for this plant is Ficus elastica, however the traditional early versions have generally been replaced by more modern cultivars and closely related varieties. For this reason you might find the plant labeled as Ficus robusta (which as the name suggests is much more robust and hardy), Rubber Plants can also have attractive variegationother highlights include the compact Decora, and the almost black leaved Black Prince.

You may also come across some of the variegated types, these are harder to come by because they're trickier to keep looking great in homes as you can't skimp on the bright light requirement.

However if you have a suitable place for it, look out for Doescheri which has pink and purple flushes in the leaves. The most common variegated type is pictured here. Resembling army khaki.

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Rubber Plant
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Rubber Plant Care Guide

Light

Grow away from continuous direct sunlight. Instead give your Rubber Plant a well lit spot with some indirect sun if possible.

With the all green types you will get away some shade, but too much and the plant will become lanky and spindly. If you have a variegated type you have to provide bright light, otherwise If you opt for shade you'll lose the markings.

Watering

Rubber plants love water when they're growing. Water them really well once the soil has dried out quite a bit, then wait until it dries out again.

If you're watering more than once a week the outhouseplants.com team are looking your way with narrowed eyes, questioning your technique.

You shouldn't let a Rubber Plant sit in water, so after 30 minutes if there's still water remaining in the drip tray, pour it away. In Winter scale back to keep the soil just moist.

Humidity

You can mist the leaves from time to time when the air is very dry, but really you don't need to worry about humidity levels.

Feeding

To produce those massive leaves the Rubber Plant needs feeding. Little and often is best, a weak feed every couple of watering's during Spring and Summer.

As with usual feeding rules, don't fertilise in Winter, or recently repotted and new plants for a good 3 to 6 months.

Temperature

The Rubber Plant will be quite happy to grow in a broad range of temperatures between 10°C / 50°F to 29°C / 85°F. If you go hotter, the leaves will lose some of their turgid appearance. You can go as low as 4.5°C / 40°F in Winter if you have to, but your watering must be spot on. At this temperature you'll kill the plant quickly if you've over watered!

Repotting

These plants grow quite big even if their pots are tiny. However there will still come a point where the growth will stop. You then have two choices, either move to a bigger pot which will get the plant growing again, or leave it where it is and top dress instead. To top dress scrape off the top inch of soil and replacing with fresh compost.

Propagation

We've never propagated this plant, firstly because one Rubber Plant in a home is almost always enough and secondly they're really cheap to go out and buy. However propagating a Rubber Plant is easy using the below method. If you give it a go let us know how it works out!

These plants grow quite big even if their pots are tiny.

You need a piece of stem, (often a growing tip), it needs to be about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) long. Remove all of the leaves bar one. If the sap is oozing wait until it stops (usually within 30 minutes) and then wash it off gently.

Plant the stem with the leaf in either gritty compost or perlite. The growing media needs to be kept moist, in a warm spot with indirect sunlight. Best results are obtained using bottom heat or doing it during Summer.

Speed of Growth

Growth of your Rubber Plant can probably be described as moderately fast. Many owners put their plants outdoors in the Summer which they feel encourages a rapid surge of new leaves. Don't over do the sun exposure though and watch out for wet cool Summers which can encourage disease and possible overwatering.

Plants which are incredibly pot bound won't grow and don't expect anything in the middle of winter..

Height / Spread

The end height and spread depends on how well your plant is treated. Rubber Plants in good conditions, big pots and with no pruning can achieve upwards of 9ft / 3M. Poor conditions, small pots or regular pruning will result in a shorter plant.

The width of the plant is controlled by your choice of whether to prune or not. If you don't, the central growing stem will race for the ceiling unheeded giving a more narrow slender tree looking effect. If you constantly cut / prune this off, new growing tips will form which will create a branched style, resulting in a wider and more bushy plant. In any event it won't spread wider than around 3ft / 1M in most homes.

Flowers

The Rubber Plant doesn't have bright flowers, but you can get fig like fruitNew leaves emerge from a colorful sheath which is often red and this can confuse new owners into thinking their plant in flowering.

You may get small fig like fruits on mature plants, but a Rubber Plant is chosen for the foliage rather than any possible flowers.

Ficus is part of the Fig family which as a general rule do not have bright, striking or fragrant flowers.

Are Rubber Plants Poisonous?

Yes the Rubber Plant is (mildly) poisonous to pets and humans. Many Ficus plants including F. elastica have a milky irritating sap in the stems and leaves that can cause gastrointestinal issues if eaten and skin irritation if the sap is allowed to rest on the skin for a time or gets into small cuts.

Anything Else?

Dust is the biggest problem for indoor Rubber Plants. You will need to rub them over every couple of months with a damp cloth to keep them looking great. Leaf shine products can also be used for a glossy finish.



How to Care for a Rubber Plant Summary

  1. Bright Light Avoid direct sunlight and very shady areas.

  2. Moderate Watering Once a week in Summer and once every two weeks in Winter.

  3. Temperature Normal indoor room temperatures.

  4. Feeding Fertilise once a month when it's growing.


Rubber Plant Problems

Yellowing Leaves

Normal on old leaves. Otherwise it could be a sign of over watering or not enough light.

Drooping leaves

This can happen when temperatures exceed 29°C / 85°F, or when you've over watered.

My Rubber Tree Plant is too tall

Yes Rubber Plants do get big don't they! Fortunately they can be pruned without adverse effect (although you may need a step ladder to get into the canopy first!). Find the central stem and then cut where you're happy for the new top to be.

You might have to wrap the exposed stem for a few hours to stop the latex sap from dripping all over the place.

Afterwards two things may happen, firstly a new growth point takes over and it continues its rise upwards, or if your plant is really healthy you will get two (or more) new growth points. This results in a more bushy and branched plant. Use this knowledge to design your perfect Rubber Plant!

White raised dots on the leaf edges

They might look like pests, or a disease, but they are actually perfectly normal and need no treatment or special care.

Pests

Pests are rare because the Rubber Plant is so resistant to them. However you can still expect Spider Mites and Scale insects to drop in from time to time.


Also on Ourhouseplants.com

Credit for the variegated Rubber Plant Photo - Article / Gallery - Forest & Kim Starr
Credit for the Rubber Tree fruit photo - Article / Gallery - Júlio Reis


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