Rubber Plant: Care and Identification Guide
The huge, glossy, dark-green leathery leaves of the Rubber Plant (Fiscus elastica) make it an attractive and unique addition to the home. It is tolerant of many growing conditions, and its care is simple. The rubber plant is an excellent choice for the new plant parent! They are the opposite of finicky and acclimate well to new environments.
Rubber plants grow quite tall given the proper environment and live for decades. It makes a great centerpiece when it is 1-2-feet tall. When it reaches 3-feet, it looks stunning along a wall, near a doorway, or next to a fireplace.
This plant is also known as a rubber tree, rubber bush, or rubber fig. It gets its name from the white “rubber” sap that oozes from the leaves and stems if cut. The sap has a milky and latex-like consistency. It may irritate the skin, so be mindful when tending this plant.
Types of Rubber Plants
There is a lot of confusion in garden centers, online, and among plant experts on the naming of various cultivars. The ficus you obtain may have a different name then these listed, but still be one of them. Or, more likely, it is just being sold as a rubber plant with no designation of type. It's complicated because garden centers often mislabel them. Don't stress about it, though. The care is the same for them all, and they are all beautiful! Ficus elastica "Robusta" – A hardier, more robust cultivar of the original type popular 30 years ago. This is the one most commonly available today. It has broader leaves, tolerates lower humidity, and is more compact than the original.
Ficus elastica “Decora”
Only slightly different from “Robusta,” this cultivar has wider and larger dark-green leaves. The center vein of the leaves is red underneath and slightly white on top. The casing around the new leaves is also deep red.
Ficus elastica “Burgundy” or “Abidjan” or “Black Prince”
The leaves on this variety are so dark that they look purplish-black. The midrib is red and stands out contrasted against the dark leaves.
Ficus elastica “Doescheri”
This rubber plant has narrower leaves and a dramatic variegated pattern. The leaves are green, yellow, white, and grayish-green and have a pink midrib.
Ficus elastica “Sophia”
A rubber plant with all green leaves, which are rounder and smaller than the classic “Robusta."
Ficus elastica “Ruby”
The cultivar features dark, wine red leaves, which are accentuated in full sun.
Ficus elastica “Tineke”
A newer cultivar, this rubber plant showcases variegated green and white leaves with burgundy overtones.
Avoid placing in direct sunlight. Rubber plants prefer lots of indirect sunlight. The red varieties specifically benefit from lots of indirect light. Variegated varieties must have abundant indirect light, or the many-colored patterns won't appear. Green cultivars withstand a bit more shade and poorly lit locations. If left in the shade too long, though, they will become spindly.
A south-facing window with sheer curtains that light can shine through is ideal. The glossy leaves attract dust and need to be wiped down regularly. Dirty leaves inhibit the plant's ability to absorb sunlight, and the overall growth will suffer.
Only add water when the top inch of soil is completely dry. Rubber plants suffer greatly from overwatering. If the roots are frequently damp, they can rot. Give the soil a thorough soaking, then wait for it to dry out again. This will likely take 2-3 weeks. Once you learn the habits of your rubber plant, set a schedule for checking the dryness of the soil.
Do not let water sit longer than 30 minutes in the drip tray, or it will cause soggy roots. If your rubber plant displays yellow, dropping leaves, it is being overwatered.
In the winter, when the plant is resting, water it once a month. You don't need to do the full soaking, just give it enough water to keep the soil moist.
In the spring and summer, add a diluted balanced fertilizer once a month. This helps the rubber plant produce it's large, glorious leaves. Do not add fertilizer in the winter months.
While not super picky about temperature, the rubber tree will struggle a little bit when outside its preference. The ideal range is between 50F and 85F, which is quite a vast range for a houseplant. Anything hotter than 85F will stunt the large, showy leaves. They will still grow but will not be anything close to their potential size. If the temperature is below 39F, the plant will likely not survive.
Use a well-draining, balanced potting soil mix. A mixture of potting soil, peat, coarse sand, and pine bark is ideal.
The rubber plant originates from southern Asia, specifically China, Nepal, Malaysia, and India. In the wild, it grows up to 100-feet tall. Forty years ago, it was an extremely popular houseplant. It grew out of popularity for a while, but now it is making a comeback with many intriguing and attractive cultivars.
If you want your rubber plant to grow larger, you'll need to repot it every 1-2 years. Only go one pot size up at a time, or the roots will struggle to adapt. Once it reaches the desired size, keep it in the same pot, but be sure to replace the soil every year to replenish the nutrients.
The rubber plant is poisonous to cats and dogs. The milky sap it emits causes gastrointestinal issues. This plant is not deadly but should be kept away from house pets as much as possible.
USDA Hardiness Zones:
Rubber plants are hardy in USDA zones 9-12. Rubber trees benefit from summering outside and many people in southern states keep rubber tree outside all year long.
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