Botanical Name: Ficus elastica
Rubber Plant is a bold evergreen that gets its name from the sticky sap that dries into a low-quality rubber.
It is popular as a house plant, however, because of its large, leathery, glossy leaves that can grow to 8 in (20 cm) long or more -- and because it is so easy to grow.
Just like many other plants in the Moraceae family, this one doesn't like to be moved around. Sudden changes in temperature and light may cause it to drop its leaves, although it's not as fussy as its cousin, the weeping fig.
Keep it out of drafts and repot in spring only when its roots fill the pot -- it likes to be slightly pot-bound. Use a container with drainage holes to prevent overwatering. Never repot a plant that's shedding its leaves, which will make the problem worse.
Pruning tip: The central stem will typically grow straight, without branching. Regular pruning of the growing tip will encourage side branches to form as it grows. You can control its height by simply cutting off the top when it becomes too tall and lanky. Use sharp pruning shears to avoid tearing the stems.
Water regularly to keep it healthy. Leaves that turn yellow and fall off are a sign that it's overwatered. However, it's perfectly natural for older, lower leaves do this.
Few other problems bother this plant. Watch out for sooty mold that can grow on leaves. You can remove it by simply wiping off the affected leaves with mild soapy water.
Keep leaves dust-free and shiny by gently wiping them off with a damp cloth.
Origin: India and Malaysia
Height: Up to 10 ft (3 m)
Light: Bright light, no direct sun.
Water: Keep soil evenly moist. Be careful not to overwater.
Humidity: Relative humidity of 40-60%
Temperature: Normal room temperatures 60-75°F/16-24°C
Soil: Peat moss-based potting mix.
Fertilizer: Feed once a month spring through summer with a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted by half.
Propagation: Take stem cuttings in spring. To keep its sticky, white sap from forming a cap on the base of the cutting, place the tip in water for 30 minutes. Remove from the water and dip only the cut surface in rooting hormone. Then, insert it into moist potting mix to root.
Ficus elastica will grow to 40 ft (12 m) in its native habitat, but will stay much shorter when grown indoors in a container.
Rubber plant will also bear fruit when it is 30 years old -- outdoors, not in.
There are many named varieties to choose from:
'Decora' has big, glossy, dark-green leaves that grow up to 12 in (30 cm) long...'Melany' is more compact and branching.
Several varieties have reddish leaves, such as 'Burgundy', and some newer cultivars have variegated leaves. 'Doescheri' is splashed with green, gray-green and creamy yellow or white. 'Tricolor' has gray-green leaves that are variegated with cream and pink.