The rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica) was originally an outdoor plant cultivated commercially for its white sap that was used to produce latex. The plant is native to the tropics of India, South Asia, and Malaysia. When grown outside, a rubber plant, part of the banyan tree family, can reach a height well over 100ft (30 m) and has a thick, sturdy trunk that can be 6ft (2 m) wide. Other common names for the Ficus elastica are Rubber Fig, Indian Rubber Bush, Indian Rubber Tree, Rubber Bush. Today, rubber tree plants grow outdoors in warm, temperate climates throughout the world, though they are much shorter than the ones originally found growing in nature.
Rubber Tree Plant Description
Rubber tree plants have thick, leathery, glossy, oval leaves that are about 4”-14” (10cm-35cm) long and 2″-6″ (5cm-15cm) wide. Once damaged, the leaves cannot be trimmed and should be cut off. Interestingly, the leaves of younger plants are larger than those of more mature plants. When small, this versatile plant can be used as table plant and eventually as a bushy floor plant or tall tree. The easy to care for rubber tree can grow up to 10ft tall in a bright room with tall ceilings.
Rubber Tree Plant Varieties
A rubber tree is an extremely popular indoor plant and there are many different varieties with different colored leaves.
Ficus elastica “decora” has shiny, thick, dark green leaves.
Ficus elastica ‘robustica” is a new hardier variety of the Ficus “decora” with larger, wider leaves
Ficus elastica “tineke” has colorful, patterned leaves in green, pink, cream, and yellow.
Ficus elastica burgundy (Black Prince) has very dark almost blackish/ green leaves with a burgundy undertones and stems
Ficus elastica tricolor, also called a “Ruby Red” or “Belize” has leaves that are rose colored when they first emerge and gradually become dark green with leaf patterns in white and grayish green. Ficus elastica “doescheri” has green and gray blotches of color in the center of the leaves and creamy white margins on the outer edges of the leaves.
F. Tineke F. Burgundy F. Tri-Color F. decora
Quick Care Tips
Like all ficus plants, a rubber tree doesn’t like to be moved around to different locations.
Prefers constant temperatures above 55°F (12.8°C)
Keep the plant away from cold drafts and heaters.
Bright indirect light
Be careful not to over water
The rubber tree is a poisonous plant and is toxic to small children, dogs, cats, and other pets. Read more about houseplants that are poisonous in Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants.
Light requirements for a rubber tree plant: Bright, indirect light especially for the varieties that have cream, pink, or light red variations in the leaves. A rubber tree plant with solid, dark green leaves can grow in medium light but may become leggy when there is not enough light. Direct sun will burn the leaves.
Water requirements for a rubber tree plant: Allow the top few inches of soil (25%-30% depending upon the pot size) to dry out before watering. It is confusing, but yellow leaves can develop when the plant is either over or under- watered. Like its cousin, the ficus benjamina, green leaves fall off and new growth turns black when the plant is over- watered.
How to fertilize a rubber tree plant: Feed monthly in the spring and summer with a balanced, liquid fertilizer diluted to 1/2 the recommended strength.
The best temperature for a rubber tree plant: 60°F – 75°F (15°C-24° C) Temperatures below 55°F (12.8°C) can damage the leaves
How much humidity does a rubber tree plant need: Basic household humidity
Does a rubber tree plant flower: This plant rarely flowers indoors.
Rubber tree plant pests: Spider mites, aphids, scale, and thrips can all be a problem. See a picture and read how to identify and treat each of these plant pests in the Glossary of the website. The regularly spaced, tiny, white spots that form on rubber tree plant leaves and are sometimes mistaken for insects, are called cystoliths. These spots are calcium carbonate crystals and are not harmful to the plant.
Rubber tree plant diseases: Root rot, due to over watering, is the main problem. Root rot often occurs when a rubber tree is directly planted into a decorative container that has no drip holes in the bottom or it is planted in a container that is too large. In both cases, the soil stay wet too long and the roots are destroyed. Leaves turn yellow, green leaves may simply drop off, and new growth turns black when a rubber tree plant has root rot.
Type of soil for a rubber tree plant: Use a light, airy potting soil that drains quickly.
What size pot for a rubber tree plant: Do not rush to repot the plant, wait until the roots have filled the existing container. Always use the next size pot and nothing larger. The new container for your rubber tree plant must have drip holes in the bottom.
How to prune a rubber tree plant: Prune the branches to maintain the size and shape you want your rubber tree plant to be. Read about propagation and how to use the stem tip cutting to propagate a new plant in the glossary of the website.
How to propagate a rubber tree plant: These plants are usually propagated using leaf-tip cuttings. However, if the stems are thick, you can also use the air layering technique. Providing warm temperatures and high humidity helps with the propagation process. You can read more about how to propagate a plant using leaf tip cuttings and air layering in the Glossary of the website.
Poisonous Plant Info
Is a rubber tree plant poisonous: The sap of a rubber tree plant is toxic and can irritate the skin, eyes, and mouth. The plant should be kept away from small children, dogs and cats. Always wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt when pruning, or propagating a rubber tree plant.
If you have your rubber tree plant in the direct sun, those brown marks are sunburn. Move your plant away from the window and into bright, indirect light. If the plant is not in direct sun the marks could be Leaf Spot Disease. Keep water off the leaves and don’t mist the plant.
It sounds like your rubber Tree Plant is getting yellow leaves due to a watering problem. Rubber Trees develop yellow leaves when they are either over or under-watered. Check your soil to see which one it is and either water more or cut back on your watering.
You can make your bare, thin rubber tree plant look better by cutting off the growing tip of the main stem; once you do that, the plant will branch out along the stem. Use stem tip cuttings to start new plants. Another way to make a rubber tree bushier is to make small slits above the notches in the stem where the old leaves fell off; new leaves will grow from each slit.
After you cut off the stem tip from a rubber Ttee plant, place it a jar of water for about an hour. This stops the sticky white sap from sealing the cut end of the stem. Once you remove the stem tip from the water, dip the cut end in Rooting Hormone, and plant immediately. Hope this works for you.