I love tropical-looking plants. Of course, I won’t be going to the jungle anytime soon. Doesn’t matter though-I can bring the jungle experience to myself instead. How? By growing my own tropical-like plants in the comfort of my home. One such plant is the rubber tree (Ficus elastica), a native of Southeast Asia and the Amazon region of Central and South America. This tropical evergreen has large, glossy green leaves that are not only stunning (and about as tropical as one can get), but the plant also has an interesting history. Rubber tree plants make exceptional additions to the home-adding color, character, and interest year round. No winter blahs here. You’ll always have a cheery green plant to make those wintry days melt away. Even when the plants are dormant, they remain green and lively looking. They’re easy to grow and care for too. It’s no wonder why rubber trees make such great houseplants.
So how does one grow this tropical evergreen? First, you gotta get one, either from a plant nursery or through family and friends (cuttings). The rest is simple. Stick the plant in a pot large enough to accommodate the roots (repotting may be needed as it grows) with well-draining potting soil (and don’t forget the pot should provide adequate drainage as well). Water it thoroughly and then place your rubber tree in a well-lit area, preferably somewhere with bright light. These plants need little fertilizer, but when they do, use a water-soluble fertilizer at about half the recommended strength. Keep your rubber tree moist (not soggy) and provide it with adequate humidity. This can be done through daily misting, the use of a humidifier, or by setting the plant on a water-filled tray of pebbles. Take care not to over water the rubber tree plant. In fact, water it only when the soil feels fairly dry. In winter, monthly watering should be sufficient. It’s also important to keep the leaves clean, so wipe it done from time to time with a damp cloth. This will also keep the leaves shiny, so don’t run out and buy all those fancy shine products-many only clog the plant’s pores anyway.
In their native tropical habitats, rubber trees can get quite large. In the home, however, they reach only about five to eight feet tall (which is still rather large). Therefore, you may want to trim it back now and then, especially any unsightly growth. Spring is a good time for this task. It’s also a good time for taking cuttings, which root easily. That leads me back to the beginning…hit your friends, neighbors, or family up for a rubber tree cutting (or two) so you can bring a taste of the jungle right into your living room! Oh, and before I forget, the interesting history I previously mentioned has to do with how the rubber tree plant got its name. The white sap (which you’ll find to be rather sticky when pruning) was commonly harvested (and still is) to make rubber products. In fact, this is what has been termed “latex” by many. Pretty cool, huh?
Resources: personal experience
The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual: essential know-how for keeping (not killing) more than 160 indoor plants by Barbara Pleasant
About the Rainforest by Heather Johanasen