The rubber plant has been a beloved houseplant for decades. Shiny, elegant and in a range of colours, it improves any interior. This one, ficus elastica melany, has leaves with a bronze-y, sometimes almost black shade. It’s been trained into a tree shape, to make it even more impressive.
In the wild, the rubber plant is mostly found in southern parts of Asia, where it can grow as tall as 60 metres. It gets its name from the white latex coursing through its veins, which was once used to make rubber. Way back in 1400BC, the Mesoamerican people would mix its latex with juice from a morning glory plant to make bouncy balls, which they used in a game called ollamaliztli. In English the game is known as pok-a-tok. Sadly, the rules are lost to history.
As an indoor plant, those big leaves like a lot of light. Direct sun can be too harsh, but it will be very happy in a bright room. Give it a mist every few days to keep its leaves fresh and treat it to a monthly feed in spring and summer. That will help this ex-sports star grow big and strong.
Did you know?
In parts of India, the rubber tree’s incredibly strong roots have been trained to form ‘living bridges’ over small rivers.