A native to Southeast Asia, Rubber tree is a popular houseplant known for its waxy, oval-shaped, deep green leaves. Its leathery foliage is not only aesthetically pleasing but practical as well since it allows you to wipe the leaves more easily using a plain cloth. Rubber tree is commonly used as a floor plant because of its large and striking appearance. It can grow as high as 100 feet in their homelands, but when cultivated indoors as a houseplant, they can grow up to 10 feet tall. If you want to keep them smaller in size, plant them in small pots to limit their growth. If you plan to grow Rubber trees outdoors, consider planting them close to a shady area like a garage. Having plants around or near your garage is also a perfect way to take the focus away from common eye distractions like a waste oil heater, engine-driven welder or a fuel transfer tank and into the plant’s lovely foliage.
Rubber trees are said to be effective air purifiers by helping to reduce formaldehyde. They are generally harmless but people with existing houseplant aversion may need to watch out for reactions such as stomach pain and skin irritation. For pets, Rubber trees may cause an upset stomach and other discomfort if they chew on them, as is the case for other plants.
Varieties & types of Rubber tree plants
The scientific name of the Rubber tree plant is Ficus elastica, which is part of the banyan group under the ficus genus. The plant belongs to the fig family known as Moraceae, which has more than 1,100 species that mainly thrive in tropical and subtropical countries. Ficus elastica is native to many countries in Asia, such as Malaysia, China, Nepal, India, Bhutan and Indonesia, where the tropical climate suits the plant. This plant has become naturalized in other regions as well including the West Indies and Hawaii. It is commonly grown as an ornamental plant, though other countries have unique ways of finding use for the plant. In some areas in India, for example, people use the roots of fully grown Rubber trees as “living bridges.” These areas are prone to heavy downpours so these living bridges prevent the flooding from cutting off villages. In the past, people also used the tree’s white latex, which is a chemical compound different from sap, to make rubber. For Feng shui experts and practitioners, Rubber tree plants symbolize fortune and good luck.
Rubber tree plants come in different varieties that can be distinguished by their variegated leaves, height and so on. The widely known varieties include Tineke, Tricolor, Burgundy, Decora, Robusta, Melany, Abidjan, Doescheri and Dwarf Ficus elastica. In this article, we listed down three of the most popular varieties of Rubber tree plants and a guide on how to care for each of them, including watering, temperature and light needs. Speaking of lists, you may want to check out our list of the best plasma cutters for your money and this one with mini metal lathes.
Ficus Tineke has waxy, variegated oval-shaped leaves in shades of green, white and cream. This easy-to-care-for plant is drought-tolerant and grows up to 1 meter. Its leaves grow within a sheath, which then matures and grows even bigger as the new leaves continue their growth. While it is an amazing houseplant, Tineke may trigger skin irritation to some. For pets, it may cause stomach irritation and vomiting.
The Tineke variety needs to be watered consistently especially during its growth phase. Watering should be scaled back during the winter season. To properly water Tineke, let the top part of the soil dry out and water thoroughly from there. As this plant grows, its need for watering also moderates.
Tineke should be given indirect sunlight regularly for its variegated leaves to thrive. Make sure to rotate your plant every month or so to ensure that all sides will receive enough sunlight. As in other plants, too much direct exposure to sunlight could burn Tineke’s leaves.
As a tropical plant, Tineke rubber plant thrives in average room temperature ranging from 60 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. You should avoid levels below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, cold drafts, heating vents and sudden temperature changes. Tineke enjoys humid air because of its tropical nature, but it can also tolerate less humid temperature levels. As a general rule, if it feels too hot or too cold for you, then it is probably the same for your plant.
You can use the usual houseplant fertilizer once every month, except during winter. You can also feed your houseplant with worm compost or liquid organic fertilizer, which should be diluted to half strength. Fertilizers should be used sparingly after the Tineke plant’s active growth stage.
Ruby (Pink rubber tree)
Ficus Elastica Ruby’s striking appearance is marked by its tri-colored variegated leaf patterns. Also known as Pink Rubber tree, this plant features strawberry-colored leaves with splashes of cream-yellow and green. This lovely color combination allows this low-maintenance hardy to add an extra pop to an otherwise boring space. Ficus Elastica Ruby is native to Malaysia and India.
This plant needs water once every seven to 10 days, or when you notice that the top part of the soil up to 2 inches down is dry. As in other types of Rubber trees, Ruby needs less water during winter. Regularly checking the soil’s moisture level will help you avoid overwatering, which is the most common mistake committed by growers of this plant. Make sure not to splash the leaves as this can lead to stains.
Ruby enjoys lots of bright, indirect sunlight, so consider placing it near a window. You must also rotate Ruby every now and then so that all sides of the plant get ample light. Exposure to harsh light will burn this plant’s leaves, while insufficient light will affect its variegation.
This plant thrives in warm temperatures and is sensitive to cold air drafts. It may also react negatively to abrupt changes in temperature levels. If you plan on keeping this plant indoors, make sure not to put it right beside an AC or a heating vent.
You can feed Ruby with an organic house fertilizer once or twice every month from spring until fall. Some organic fertilizers, however, have nutrients that are enough to last up to six months from the first time of feeding.
The Burgundy Rubber tree measures 8 to 12 inches in height and about 4 inches in width. It can reach up to 40 feet tall if you plant it in the ground. This plant got its name from its burgundy leaves, which in some cases look almost black. While this plant is relatively easy to care for, growers often complain about Burgundy leaves turning yellow, a problem caused by overwatering. Here are some tips and tricks on how to best grow your Burgundy Rubber tree.
As a moisture-sensitive plant, Burgundy needs water when up to 70% of the top part of the soil becomes dry. The water should be poured slowly without splashing the leaves, letting it flow through until it reaches the saucer. Watering should be cut back during winter. Overwatered Burgundy Rubber trees will display yellow leaves. You may consider using an organic mulch to strengthen the structure of the soil and maintain its moisture.
Burgundy prefers bright, filtered light. If indoors, its best position should be close to a window.
The ideal temperature for this plant is between 65 degrees and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if you want to achieve its dark red foliage. As in other varieties of Rubber trees, abrupt temperature changes do not bode well for Burgundy. If you live in a cold climate, Burgundy will do best in an indoor location.
A once-a-month diluted liquid fertilizer will support Burgundy’s growth if fed from spring to summer.
How to prune it
Rubber trees can “overgrow” and take up too much space if not maintained properly. Unless your aim is to grow a medium- to large-sized tree, Rubber tree plants need to be pruned every now and then to maintain its appealing look in your interior space. Luckily, pruning Rubber trees is not very complicated. You do not even need a plasma cutter but a clean and sharp blade or shears will do the trick. You may also consider using gloves.
Pruning Rubber trees help strengthen and shape the plants using proper techniques. You can do it anytime of the year, but the most ideal timing is between late spring and early summer or during its growing season. You may want to consider your preferred shape of your plant before starting the pruning process. Ask yourself whether you want your Rubber tree to be vertical, bushier at the bottom or slim. Then, start cutting above the nodes, the area where the leaves are attached to the stem, or where smaller stems branch out from larger ones. If you want to prune a large stem, cut above the area where a tinier stem is branching out. Rubber trees’ branches can be cut straight across. You can also make cuttings on top of a leaf scar.
Keep in mind that a Rubber tree plant should not be pruned at the top until it reaches your preferred height if you are aiming for a tree-like form. Pruning at the top will encourage branching out from below instead of growing vertically. If you want to form a bushy shrub, start by pruning the side stems to encourage branching, which will then fill in the mid section. The top and side branches should also be trimmed to achieve your desired diameter. You can trim on top of a growth node to encourage branching. New stems can likewise be trimmed to make the leaf cover thicker. Branches should be pruned regularly if you want to add volume to the leaves and make the plant bushier. If you want your Rubber tree plant to appear thinner, the stems should be cut back to their trunk.
You may notice some white sap dripping from the Rubber plant tree’s stems after pruning. This is normal. All you need to do is wait for the sap to dry out naturally. If you are concerned about the sap getting onto places especially if the plant is indoors, you may consider placing a mat around your Rubber tree.
Like other plants, Ficus elastica should be propagated between early spring and late fall during its active growth phase. While you can still propagate your Ficus elastica outside these seasons, the end result may not be satisfying, with the plant unable to recover as quickly. Before pruning make sure to have the following tools: a pair of pruning shears, rooting hormone, a small pot filled with perlite and gardening soil, a zip bag, and some paper towels. Speaking of tools, you may want to read our article on gauge wires and engine-driven welders – two tools that are sure to come in handy should you come up with DIY home projects!
Before starting, make sure that your pruning shears are sharp and clean. Then, choose a healthy stem and cut halfway up, ensuring that a leaf is left below the cutting on the main Rubber tree plant. Dab the main plant’s stem with rooting hormone. Some sap might drip off during the process so make sure to have your paper towels ready to wipe off the mess.
Then, snip off the leaves at the bottom of the cutting using pruning shears. The ideal length of the cutting is below 6 inches so if the stem is longer than this, you may want to cut it in half. This bottom half should then be discarded, leaving two to four leaves at the top of the main cutting. You can also dip the cutting in rooting hormone, which helps encourage root growth. Afterward, plant the cutting in the pot filled with soil, put it in the zip bag, and seal it. You do not need to zip it all the way through, though, and instead leave some air passage for the plant. Make sure that the leaves are not touching the bag too often as this could slow the process of root growth. You may want to use a toothpick to ensure some distance between the bag and the leaves. The bag should be placed in a nice spot where it can get partial, indirect sunlight.
Keep in mind that Rubber tree plants may take a while to produce new leaves through propagation, so having patience is necessary. Make sure that the soil remains moist and the temperature is warm for better results. Ideally, you should see significant progress such as new leaves and well-developed roots in six months.
Another option, albeit less popular, is propagating through water. This process has similarities with how you propagate a Monstera. To do this, simply put the cutting in a container filled with water and allow the roots to grow there. The bottom part of the cutting should not touch the container as this could hamper root growth. Then, place the container next to a window where it can enjoy some warmth. If done properly, this process should produce small, white roots in two to three months. Propagation can also be done through air layering, which creates a naked tree ring when a portion of the cutting’s bark is removed. The developed roots are expected to show up at this ring after about three weeks.
Variegated rubber trees
Variegation is the appearance of at least two colors on a plant’s flowers, stems or leaves. This may appear as spots, stripes or borders that have a different shade than the rest of the plant’s variegated section. This happens not because of adaptation, but due to a shortage of chlorophyll in plant cells, leading to cell mutation. Variegation can be inherited but it can also occur randomly, a process known as chimeric.
Variegation is said to be genetic when the color change is consistent and stable. For example, if you propagate a colored plant from one with green leaves, the new plant should have both colored and green leaves. Meanwhile, chimeral variegation occurs when a plant has one tissue that can yield chlorophyll and another that cannot. This often results in a variegated plant that has a yellow or white color and a solid green zone. Chimeral variegation may appear either through random or asymmetrical patterns.
In some cases, variegation happens due to a viral infection. One of the most common is the Mosaic virus, which results in mosaic-like patterns on the infected plant’s leaves.
Variegation is also present among certain varieties of Ficus elastica or Rubber tree plants. One example is Ficus Elastica Ruby that we introduced in the section above. These prized plants exhibit red midribs and cream-yellow patches splashed against the shade of green. Caring for variegated Rubber tree plants is no different from maintaining traditional ones. This variety needs well-lit spots where it can get enough indirect sunlight, and requires watering every week in summer and every two weeks during winter. If the color of your plant appears to be fading, it probably needs more light. Variegated Rubber trees can tolerate low-light settings, but too much shade would cause their colored markings to disappear overtime. This variety also enjoys humidity, so you may need to mist the plant daily or have a humidifier around to keep its leaves healthy and vibrant. Another remedy for lack of humidity is by placing the Rubber tree plant on a pebble tray half-filled with water. Falling leaves are an indicator of low humidity levels.