Ficus elastica (Rubber Plant)

With dark, glossy leaves, Rubber Trees are fast-growing (slow indoors) tropical that develop aerial roots at maturity. These initially thrive in partial shade, making them popular houseplants in cooler climates. Mature plants, however, require full sun. These bear a peculiarly close resemblance to Magnolia grandiflora (in terms of leaves and flowers), leading some people to mistake one for the other at first glance.

Ficus elastica (India Rubber Tree, Rubber Plant)
Deciduous: no
Hardiness Zones: 10-12
Height: to 30 meters tall in the tropics, rarely past 3 meters indoors
Diameter: to 30 meters across in tropical climates, rarely past 2 meters indoors
Growth Rate: fast (full sun), slow indoors with low light
Age: to 600 years old in tropics
Root System: Banyan-like aerial roots may occur in large mature trees, potentially forming bridges if “trained” correctly. Thin, smaller roots commonly arise from juvenile trunks. Surface roots are very common and may disrupt sidewalks.
Family: Moraceae
Subspecies: ‘Doescheri’ (yellow variegated foliage), ‘Decora’ (reddish-green foliage with central ivory veins), ‘Variegata’ (light green foliage with light yellow margins), ‘Strawberry & Cream’ (reddish-pink leaves, similar to ‘Tineke’), ‘Burgundy’ (very dark purple/red, black leaves)

Tolerates: shade (severely limits growth, however), aerosol salt (moderate), drought (once mature, very resilient to dry spells)
Problems (major): easy to overwater and cause root rot
Problems (minor): Scale, aphids, mealybugs, thrips, spider mites, breakage (strong winds)
Poisonous: Contact with the sap may cause dermatitis in select individuals, non-toxic otherwise.

Soil requirements: requires well-drained soils, tolerates clays and sands, slightly acidic or slightly alkaline,
Air requirements: requires high humidity, at least 40%
Watering requirement: moderate, allow soil to dry out in between watering
Sun requirement: part-shade indoors, full sun for best results
Leaves: dark green with red sheaths protecting maturing leaves (some with splotches of yellow, others dark red-black), alternate, simple, elliptic, pinnate, to 30 centimeters long by 20 cm wide
Flowers: similar in structure to Magnolia grandiflora flowers, white petals
Fruits: to 1 centimeter in diameter, green, round, fleshy, inconspicuous
Seeds require stratification: no
Trunk: light brown, smooth, copious aerial roots with age
Form: irregular, rounded
Monoecious or Dioecious: monoecious
Monocot or Dicot: dicot

Notable characteristics:
The sap/resin (containing isoprene) from these plants has been used as a weaker form of rubber. However, it is more expensive and less useful than the typical rubber in use produced by Hevea brasiliensis. Additionally, these produce extremely dense shade in which few other plants can grow. The roots are sometimes manipulated to grow on Betel nut trees to form living bridges across gaps or streams.

Rubber plants are frequently grown as houseplants in temperate regions.

Sources used:

A fairly young Rubber Plant with new red leaves

Very dark black foliage at Missouri Botanical Garden

A young, severely pruned Rubber Plant with a cut trunk


Trunk with roots forming (at SIUC PLB Greenhouse)



All of the images provided were taken by me. They may be used for educational/informational purposes only, provided that this article/online journal is appropriately cited first.


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