Ficus elastica (FY-kus ee-LASS-tuh-kuh)is an attractive perennial evergreen shrub native to Western Malaysia, India, Nepal, and China.
The genus name, Ficus, is Latin and means “edible fig.” The specific epithet is a reference to the plants’ sticky white sap, which is a key component in genuine rubber production.
This epiphytic member of the Moraceae family of plants is commonly known as:
- Indian Rubber Tree
- India Rubber Plant
- Rubber Tree Plant
- India Rubber Fig
- Rubber Fig Tree
- Rubber Plant
- Rubber Tree
- Ficus Elastica Rubber Plant Care
- How To Propagate Ficus Elastica
- Ficus Elastica Main Pest Or Diseases
- Suggested Ficus Elastica Uses
Ficus Elastica Rubber Plant Care
Size and Growth
Fast-growing Ficus elastica has an upright, rounded growth habit.
In their native lands, Rubber Trees can grow to be nearly 200′ feet high. They can also live for decades in their natural habitat.
In a jungle setting, India Rubber Tree produces many aerial roots, which it may use to support itself as it clambers up a nearby tree.
When grown outdoors in a semi-tropical or desert setting away from its native habitat, this tropical plant can reach about 35’ feet tall.
When kept as houseplants, they typically top out at about 6′ to 10′ feet.
Flowering and Fragrance
In its native setting, Rubber Tree produces very small blooms pollinated by fig wasps.
The blooms transition into dark green, spotted figs that turn yellow as they mature. The figs are edible.
Ficus elastica’s deep green leaves grow to be quite large (17″ x 6″ inches). They are elliptically shaped, leathery, sturdy, and stiff.
The basic leaves, midribs, and undersides are deep burgundy. Some cultivars display pretty variegated leaves in shades of deep green with cream, white or burgundy markings.
Light and Temperature
As a forest dweller, Rubber Tree prefers bright, indirect light. It can tolerate 6 hours of full sun daily but is happier with all-day dappled or indirect sun.
The ideal location provides bright morning sunlight, shelter from the harsh noonday sun, and dappled or bright indirect sunlight in the afternoon.
Make sure to place this plant out of direct sunlight, as this bright light can scorch the leaves.
An indication of too much light is crispy, brown leaves. Remember, rubber plant leaves are sensitive to direct light conditions.
Moreover, it’s important to note that variegated types need more light to retain their foliage’s mix of colors.
Also, remember that improper light levels will result in slow growth or a lack of new leaf growth.
If you don’t have access to natural light, you can use grow light instead for better lighting conditions.
Consistently warm temperatures are a must. Daytime temps of 75° to 80° degrees Fahrenheit with nighttime temps of 60° to 65° degrees Fahrenheit are ideal.
Don’t allow the temperature to drop below 55° degrees Fahrenheit.
Moreover, provide moderate humidity to grow your rubber plant well. In addition, protect your rubber plant from both hot and cold drafts.
Ficus elastica is winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9 and above, with reliable shelter provided by surrounding buildings. For example, it might do well in an inner courtyard in this sort of semi-tropical setting.
When planted in this way, it can tolerate surrounding temperatures ranging from 32° to 115° degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s important to understand that the plant will not experience these temperature extremes because of the protection provided by buildings or walls.
Without this protection, India Rubber Plant would not survive very cold or scorching temperatures.
Ficus Elastica Care – Watering and Feeding
Use soak-and-dry watering to provide your plant with a thorough, deep watering when the top inch or so of the soil begins to feel dry.
Remember to keep the soil moist, but never let it be soggy or wet. Excessive watering will result in yellow leaves.
You can check for moisture levels by sticking your finger into the soil. If it’s dry and crumbly in the first few inches of soil, it’s time to water your rubber plant again.
In the rubber plant’s dormant season through the winter months, you should water it 2 or 3 times per month.
For container plants, let the water run through the plants’ substrate and empty any excess water from the drainage saucer. Never allow your Rubber Plant to stand in water.
For trees planted in the landscape, water deeply, occasionally, never allowing the soil to dry completely or stay soggy.
As jungle dwellers, Rubber Tree Plants prefer a fairly humid environment but can grow well in a desert setting with good protection from harsh sunlight and high winds.
Make sure to maintain the moisture level to keep the large waxy leaves glossy and healthy.
Use a general-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer for healthy rubber tree houseplants twice a month during the growing season.
You can also use an organic, high-phosphorus liquid fertilizer to support new root growth.
Indoor liquid fertilizers will also work well, as they provide the right balance of nutrients in the right concentration the rubber plant needs.
If you keep your Rubber Tree in a low-light setting, only fertilize once a month during the growing season.
If planted outdoors in a tropical, semi-tropical, or desert setting, use a balanced (10-10-10) granular, slow-release fertilizer as soon as you see active growth in the early springtime.
You can also apply a tablespoonful of fertilizer per square foot of surrounding soil from about a 1-foot circumference around the trunk to the tree’s drip line.
Don’t apply fertilizer right next to the trunk, as it could cause chemical burns. And do not fertilize during the winter.
Soil and Transplanting
These epiphytes like very light, airy, dry soil. They also thrive in well-draining soil that is well-aerated too.
You can also use good quality, well-draining houseplant mix with a bit of coco coir or other organic matter mixed in to improve drainage.
Choose a container with substantial weight to prevent toppling and plenty of drainage holes to prevent water retention and root rot.
Terra Cotta is an ideal material for a Rubber Tree planter.
You needn’t repot your Rubber Tree unless it becomes root bound. When/ this happens, move up to the next size pot. Just make sure you use fresh soil when repotting.
The best time for repotting is in the springtime.
Grooming and Maintenance
If grown in an outdoor desert setting, you’ll need to prune your Rubber Tree regularly in the spring and summer months to help it create a strong, supporting branch structure.
Also, make sure to prune dry, dead leaves and branches year-round. Removing damaged leaves from the rubber plant will also help redirect the plant’s energy toward healthy growth.
As it matures, take care not to thin the canopy because the mature plant will need the protection of the leaves against the desert sun.
If your Rubber plant is happy and well-cared for, you may need to prune it fairly frequently to control its size and shape. Its growth pattern can be somewhat irregular if left to its own devices.
TIP: Always lay down some sort of protection under your Rubber Tree when pruning time comes.
Whether your plant is a houseplant or a towering tree, it will drip lots of sticky sap when you prune it. It’s a lot easier to pick up a tarp or newspaper or some such and throw it away than to try to clean up all the sap.
The large leaves can become dusty over time. It’s a good idea to occasionally wipe them off with a soft, damp cloth to enhance the plants’ appearance and prevent dust from interfering with photosynthesis.
Also, make sure to place your rubber plant away from cold air drafts, air vents, large windows, and opening doors.
How To Propagate Ficus Elastica
These plants are easily propagated with stem cuttings or tip cuttings. It’s pretty simple.
Just find the central stem and cut where you’d prefer the new top.
Ensure each cutting is at least 6″ inches long and with four leaf nodes.
Air layering is another option.
Ficus Elastica Main Pest Or Diseases
With correct care, Ficus elastica is fairly trouble-free. If you overwater, your plant will be subject to root rot and other fungal problems.
Excess watering will also cause chlorosis (yellowing leaves.)
Cold or hot drafts or consistently wrong temperatures will cause leaf drop, wilting, and yellowing leaves.
Weakened plants may also be attractive to pests such as various plant mites and mealybugs.
You can spray the entire plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap, making sure to get both sides of the leaves. This will help control any infestation.
Is the plant considered toxic or poisonous to people, kids, and pets?
Rubber Tree produces a sticky, latex sap that is quite toxic. This sap oozes from the plant’s woody stems and leaves if scratched or cut. So keep your indoor plant out of the reach of kids, pets, and livestock.
Wear gloves and eye protection when pruning the indoor tree because the sap can be quite irritating to the skin and eyes. Wash up immediately after pruning.
If the sap does come in contact with your eyes, flush it out with copious amounts of running water. Seek medical assistance if this does not resolve any irritation.
Is the plant considered invasive?
Rubber Fig Tree can be quite invasive in a conducive tropical setting where the fig wasp is present to pollinate its blooms (e.g., Australia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and New Caledonia).
In most settings, the fig wasp is not present, though. For this reason, this rubber plant is usually not invasive.
Suggested Ficus Elastica Uses
Easy-care Rubber Trees make popular houseplants. A beginning indoor gardener can gain a strong sense of success by starting out with one of these attractive plants.
The large, glossy leaves make this plant a perfect specimen for a warm interior setting with plenty of bright, indirect lighting.
The plant’s cultural preferences might make it a good choice in a public setting, such as a mall, but sadly experience has taught us that the very leaves that make the plant beautiful also act as a draw to those who wish to leave their mark by scratching their initials or graffiti into the broad, glossy leaf surfaces.
In very warm climates, such as in Arizona, Rubber plants can be planted outdoors very close to the north or east wall of a substantially tall building.
In a very warm setting, it can make a nice addition to a protected patio, porch, or courtyard as a container plant.
In tropical settings, India Rubber Tree is sometimes planted along highway medians.