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Facts About the Rubber Tree: History, Description and Uses

A botany graduate, Nithya Venkat enjoys writing about plants that help sustain life on planet Earth.

Rubber Trees

Rubber Trees

Rubber trees were first discovered by the Olmec, Mayans, and Aztecs. The rubber tree is also known as the "Para Rubber Tree" or the "Sharinga Tree."

It is native to the rain forests of the Amazon region of South America - Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia.

Rubber trees are found in low- altitudes in wetlands, riparian zones, and forest gaps. They are commonly found in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China, India, Papua New Guinea, Liberia, and Gabon in Africa.

Rubber trees were identified and studied in the Amazon rainforest by Sir Henry Wickham, who shipped 70,000 seeds to Kew Gardens.

A significant part of the world's rubber comes from the plantations of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Flowers of Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis)

Flowers of Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis)

Seeds of Hevea brasiliensis

Seeds of Hevea brasiliensis

Point to Note

The genus Hevea is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family.

Only three species of this genus produce latex that can be used to make rubber products - Hevea brasiliensis, Hevea guianensis, and Hevea brnthamiana.

Other species of the genus Hevea are not tapped for rubber because they have more resin content than latex in their sap.

This article will deal with the Rubber Tree, Hevea brasiliensis, in detail.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom - Plantae

Division - Magnoliophyta

Class - Magnoliopsida

Order - Euphorbiales

Family - Euphorbiaceae

Genus - Hevea

Species - brasiliensis

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Description of the Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis

The botanical name of the rubber tree is Hevea brasilienis. It belongs to the genus Euphorbiaceae. It is a tropical tree that grows to 30 - 40 meters and has a leafy crown. It has a cylindrical trunk that is swollen towards the base.

Rubber trees grown in plantations grow only to a height of up to 25 meters because they are tapped for latex regularly. The leaves are arranged in spirals, and each leaf has three leaflets. The flowers are small and have no petals.

The flowers of the rubber tree are creamy to yellow and have a pungent smell. The male and female flowers are found on the same tree.

The fruit of the rubber tree is a capsule that explodes to release and disperse the seeds. The seeds are scattered 30 meters away from the tree.

The lifespan of rubber trees in plantations is about 32 years. Rubber trees need well-drained soil with optimal climatic conditions as follows -

  • Deep lateritic fertile soil with acidic pH of 4.5 to 6.0 and highly deficient in available phosphorous
  • Annual rainfall of 2500-4500 mm
  • Minimum and maximum temperature should range from 25 to 34 degrees Celsius with 80% relative humidity.
  • Trees should be protected from heavy winds
Rubber Tree being Tapped

Rubber Tree being Tapped

What is latex? How is latex collected?

The latex of the rubber tree is a mixture of organic compounds secreted by specialized cells called laticifers. The latex is white and thick in consistency.

It comprises 30-40 % rubber particles, 55-65% water, and small amounts of protein, sterol glycerides, resins, ash, and sugars. Rubber has high elasticity and a polymer molecular structure of long chains of tens of thousands of monomers.

How latex is collected from the rubber tree

The rubber trees can be tapped for latex only after six years of growth. After six years, a thin cut is made diagonally on the tree trunk to collect the latex, and the silver bark is removed.

The latex flows out from the cut into a collecting chute and runs into a bucket hung below the cut.

The latex keeps flowing for about six hours. Then the rubber tree is allowed to rest for six days, and another fresh cut is made to collect latex. Harvesting latex from the tree does not cause any harm to the tree.

After collection, the latex is processed to make sheets of rubber, which are then sent to manufacturing factories.

The Two Types of Rubber

There are two types of rubber, natural rubber from rubber trees and synthetic rubber made using petrochemicals. Crude oil is the primary raw material used in the production of synthetic rubber.

Rubber can be divided into natural rubber and synthetic rubber. Natural rubber is a biopolymer from rubber-producing plants and has unique properties such as -

  • resilience
  • elasticity
  • abrasion
  • impact resistance
  • efficient heat dispersion
  • malleability at cold temperatures

All the properties mentioned above make natural rubber irreplaceable in many applications, such as heavy-duty tires, medical gloves, surgical gloves, etc.

Uses of the Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis)

Natural rubber is used in the production of tires. Around 70% of the world’s natural rubber is used in manufacturing tires in the automobile industry.

The natural rubber has to be vulcanized before using them to manufacture tires. Vulcanization is heating natural rubber with sulfur to make it strong and durable.

Natural Rubber is also used to manufacture the following -

  • conveyor belts
  • surgeon’s gloves
  • marine products
  • windshield wipers
  • rubber gaskets
  • hose and tubing
  • vibration isolators
  • shock mounts
  • electrical components
  • tubing for orthodontic bands

Interesting Facts About the History of Rubber

The Mesoamerican people, like the Mayans and the Aztecs, were the first to tap rubber from the Rubber trees found in Central and South America.

The Mesoamericans dried the latex from the rubber tree and made play balls. Then, they dipped their feet in the freshly collected latex and allowed them to dry. They repeated this process several times until they could peel off a shoe from their skin.

After removing the shoes from their skin, they smoked the rubber shoes to harden them. They also used latex to waterproof their clothing.

Though the indigenous rainforest dwellers of South America have been using rubber for generations, it was not used for practical applications. In 1839 Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped rubber and sulfur on a hot stovetop; this made the rubber become like plastic but remained elastic. This process later came to be known as "vulcanization." With the advent of automobiles, the demand for rubber began to increase in the late 19th century.

Rubber was named in 1770 by the British Chemist Joseph Priestley, who was sent a ball of rubber from America. He later discovered it rubbed out pencil marks.

Importance of Latex

Rubber trees are grown in plantations to harvest latex to produce natural rubber. This does not harm the rubber tree. The rubber tree produces latex as long as it lives, but the production of latex may decrease with age.

The natural rubber has properties that make it useful in many manufacturing industries. It has made high-quality rubber products possible in many fields of application.


© 2015 Nithya Venkat


Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on April 08, 2018:

Thank you Saff.

Saff from UK on April 06, 2018:

This is an extremely interesting article and very well explained! I especially enjoyed the history of rubber section.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on April 28, 2015:

Peggy W thank you so much for your appreciative comments and the many shares.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2015:

I meant to add that watching both videos is very informative and well worth the time if one wishes to learn more. Great hub!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2015:

It is interesting that those type of trees can be tapped over and over again without harm to the tree. The blossoms are quite pretty. Very informative hub and I'll be sharing this, pinning it, etc.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on April 04, 2015:

Besarien thank you and am glad this hub brought back memories of your school days. Thank you for your thumbs up too.

Besarien from South Florida on April 03, 2015:

Great educational hub! The first report I ever wrote in elementary school was weirdly enough about rubber and the process of Vulcanization. This brought back the scents of paste and chalk dust, and taste of peanut butter and jelly on Wonderbread! Thanks for conjuring up sensory memories I haven't thought about for decades! Thumbs up!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on March 24, 2015:

tillsontitan thank you for your visit and the many votes, much appreciated.

Mary Craig from New York on March 24, 2015:

This was so interesting! Of course I knew there were rubber trees but I knew little else about them. A great addition to your educational hubs!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on March 24, 2015:

Paul Keuhn thank you for stopping by and investing in rubber trees is a great idea.

peachpurple thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

pstraubie48 thank you for reading. Thanks for the vote and share and for the many angels you always send my way.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 24, 2015:

What an amazing tree..I have read about them and knew a bit about them but still am in awe of how marvelous they are.

Thanks for sharing this information; I learned a lot this morning

Angels are on the way to you.

Voted up+++ and shared

peachy from Home Sweet Home on March 24, 2015:

our country still have rubber trees and most of them are in rural areas, indeed useful and smelly

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on March 24, 2015:

This is a very interesting and useful article for everyone to read. Yes, rubber trees are grown in Thailand but not only in the South near Malaysia. In the past few years, rubber trees have been planted in northeastern Thailand not too far from my wife's village. In the future, we might be investing in rubber trees if the price for rubber stays up. Voted up and sharing with HP followers.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 25, 2015:

FlourishAnyway thank you for stopping by and the many vote ups.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 23, 2015:

I didn't know a lot of this information about rubber and latex. Excellent, interesting hub and voted up and more.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 09, 2015:

ChitrangadaSharan thank you for reading and for the vote up, much appreciated.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 09, 2015:

Excellent article and so well written!

Rubber is so important and useful in our day today life. Thanks for sharing all the interesting information about it, which everyone should know.

Beautiful pictures, voted up as useful!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 08, 2015:

BlossomSB thank you for your visit and comment, much appreciated.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on January 08, 2015:

So interesting. I've seen rubber trees growing and being tapped in Malaysia and PNG. Great pics and information. Thank you.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 08, 2015:

billybuc thank you knowing facts is great somehow!

Jackie Lynnley thank you and yes I do wish we could get paper without cutting down trees. Thanks for the vote and share too.

always exploring what those people did is amazing, thank you for stopping by.

tobusiness thank you and yes rubber trees have sad stories associated with them.

Nell Rose thank you for your comments and appreciation.

AliciaC thank you and am glad you enjoyed reading.

Venkatachari M thank you and am glad you enjoyed. Thank you for the vote up and share.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on January 07, 2015:

Very interesting and great facts about rubber. I enjoyed much knowing these facts. Thanks for sharing it.

Voted up and beautiful.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 07, 2015:

Thanks for sharing the useful and interesting information about rubber, Vellur. I enjoyed reading your informative hub.

Nell Rose from England on January 07, 2015:

This was fascinating, and I do remember reading about the native people using it on their feet, how clever of them! so many things I didn't know, so this was great to read!

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on January 07, 2015:

where would we be without rubber indeed...unfortunately the history of rubber, like so many sought after products is littered with cruelity. I remember reading a long time ago about the brutality and inhuman treatment of the indigenous people of the rain forest by rubber barons and their private armies in South America, but that is another story. A well written informative hub on a fascinating subject, isn't nature wonderful?

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on January 07, 2015:

I am amazed! I wonder how they knew to tap the trees. People making shoes by making a footprint is fascinating. The history you presented is awesome. Thank you..

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on January 07, 2015:

Great info Nithya; I guess I never really stopped to think where rubber came from but my last guess would have been a tree! Too bad we can't get our paper that way instead of cutting down the tree. Makes me wonder how it came to be in the great scheme of things?

Up and sharing.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 07, 2015:

The eternal quest for knowledge. I love facts like this one. Thanks for the information. Any knowledge is good knowledge.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 07, 2015:

Jodah thank you for reading and yes what would we do without tyres for cars, we would we totally lost.

annart thank you and yes we do take so many things for granted without giving a thought.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 07, 2015:

Jodah thank you for reading and yes what would we do without tyres for cars, we would we totally lost.

annart thank you and yes we do take so many things for granted without giving a thought.

Ann Carr from SW England on January 07, 2015:

Lots of interesting detail here, much that I didn't know. The photos are great too. You only have to look around you to see the many uses of rubber but we just take it for granted, so it's good to draw our attention to the 'nitty-gritty'. Interesting read.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on January 07, 2015:

This was very interesting Vellur. I can't imagine where we would be without latex and rubber. It is certainly widely used in everyday life. Imagine cars without rubber tyres.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 07, 2015:

DDE thank you and am glad you enjoyed. Thanks for the many votes too.

Gypsy Rose Lee thank you and these trees are great and very useful.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on January 07, 2015:

fascinating hub. Lots of great info about the rubber tree. I love how these trees look. I think I first got interested in them when I heard that song about the rubber tree plant. Passing this on.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 07, 2015:

Incredible! I really enjoyed reading and learning so much more about this unique tree. It just shows how much one can take for granted about nature. You have approached this title with great thought. Voted up, interesting and useful.

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