Ficus elastica – the rubber plant, a member of genus ficus, under family Moraceae. Care for this rugged plant with shiny leaves is easy to learn.
The rubber tree has been grown indoors as a houseplant for decades. Ficus elastica has been a plant which has helped many a homeowner begin their journey of growing plants indoors.
The rubber trees popularity was probably at its highest from the song by Frank Sinatra “High Hopes”.
Rubber plant ficus elastica and its many varieties handle neglect much better than the rubber plants cousin – Ficus benjamina.
Native to India and eastern Asia, the plant can become massive reaching a height of 100 feet. When grown as a houseplant, it will need pruning to maintain its shape.
Sturdy plant stems hold shiny, usually dark green leaves, 12 inches long, 6 inches wide and oval.
When given proper care – a well-drained soil, good light and water – ficus elastica plants can quickly become impressive specimens.
Temperatures between 70-78 degrees will produce an excellent rubber plant. During the winter keep temperatures above 55 degrees.
The quantity of leaves of the rubber tree may not be as numerous as Ficus benjamina, but their size means they hold lots of water.
When watering, water thoroughly, completely saturating and soaking the soil media. Frequency, will depend on lighting, temperatures and plant size.
During the active growing months of spring and summer, fertilize with a liquid plant food once per month.
When repotting the ficus tree, use a commercial houseplant soil, adding a little extra peat moss would not hurt. Plants can grow quickly and require repotting every couple years.
To encourage branching, remove the top growing tip and new shoots will begin to form and branch out of the rubber plant.
The Many Rubber Plant Varieties
There are many varieties of Ficus elastica. The more popular ficus species include – Robusta, Decora, Burgundy, Abidjan, ficus microcarpa, ficus, carica, ficus benghalensis, benjamina ficus (fig tree) and assorted variegated types (Doescheri, Asahi) as well as dwarf varieties.
The true Indian rubber tree – Ficus elastica – has been replaced with other more durable varieties for use indoors.
The variety known as “Robusta” – Ficus elastica robusta or ficus robusta, probably comes closest to the original.
Another variety “Decora” is slightly different than “Robusta” with larger and broader leaves, a center vein which is red underneath. and ‘whitish’ on top.
The sheaths that protect new emerging leaves are red as well.
A dark variety known as Burgundy or ‘Abidjan’ has beautiful dark leaves appearing almost dark reddish-purple.
If exposed to cooler temperatures – burgundy – has a tendency to drop leaves.
There is even a “creeping ficus” – Ficus pumila!
Variegated Elastica Varieties
There are several varieties of Ficus elastica which are variegated with shades of green and white or creamy yellow.
To show off the contrast of the variegation, plants need to be in plenty of light. Without bright lighting, the leaves can be all green and a rather dull in color.
Rubber Plant Propagation
New plants can be easily started from tip cuttings.
Take a tip cutting of 3 -5 leaves. It helps to dip the bottom in a rooting hormone for faster rooting.
Place the tip or cutting in a moist soil with lots of peat moss. Keep the humidity around the cutting high and keep the soil moist.
Tips cuttings could also be started in a plastic bag or a soda bottle to maintain high humidity.
Roots should begin to appear in about 3-5 weeks.
Once roots appear, grow as normal – good lighting and thorough watering.
Problems and Pest
Droopy leaves – usually a sign of a plant in need of water. Place plant in a bucket or saucer of water and allow the soil to become thoroughly saturated. Drain off excess water.
Brown Spots and Leaf Drop – These symptoms show up when the plant gets too cold.
Dropping leaves and yellow leaves – This can happen during winter months when the plant needs more light and being over watered. Move plant to a brighter location and reduce watering.
Wooly, white spots on underside of leaves – Check for mealybugs.
Small yellow spots and webs on leaves – check for active spider mites.
On the other hand, fig wasps are often seen as pollinators. However, some species (non-pollinators) simply feed off the plant and could cause danger in numbers.
Look for healthy plants which are compact, holding glossy leaves.
As long as the plant gets good lighting and water, caring for them is easy and a Ficus rubber tree can live indoors for many years.