THIS Diwali, a green start up had the ideal option for gifting – gift-a-plant, and keep the environment clean and green and healthy. So, along with English Ivy, aloe vera, bamboo palm, money plant, red-edged dracaena and Chinese evergreens was the rubber tree houseplant. From the Mulberry family of Moraceae, the rubber tree plant is called Ficus Elastica in the botanical world.
Another important ‘figment’ of the fig world, the rubber tree plant or the Indian rubber tree or the Rubber Black Prince tree which can be spotted in Chandigarh is native to the North-East, the eastern Himalayas and South East Asia. Apart from its economical importance (the rubber yields a milky white latex), the Indian rubber tree has been identified as a powerful air cleaning plant by a NASA Clean Air Study.
Now, before we proceed, Ficus elastica, should not be confused with the Para Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis), which is actually the prime commercial source of latex. However, the latex of both trees is an irritant to eyes and skin and toxic too, so be careful there.
As for growing and cultivating the tree, it is excellent as a houseplant because of its “superpower” of purifying the air. In larger areas, in jungles of the North-East, for instance, like the Banyan tree, its ariel roots are used connect and weave into “living bridges”. And what a magnificent sight that makes whenever you get a chance to surf through travel portals.
Like all plants, it loves bright (not direct in this case) sunlight, moderate watering (don’t let it stand in the pot), can withstand drought and thrive, except for in exceptionally high temperatures. The tree can grow up to 40 metres.
The Black Prince variety is evergreen and a very low maintenance plant. Its leaves are big, oval, pointed, thick, pretty tough and come in shades of dark green, black and burgundy. The leaves also develop inside them a lovely red sheath that points out like an arrow from the tip of the branches. The tree produces fruit within, small stalkless yellow green oval figs called syconium. Remember to keep pruning the tree as it does have invasive roots. The rubber plant also earns its brownie points in the pest resistance department, has a high transpiration rate which increases the humidity of the room it lives in. In Chandigarh, one can spot the tree in Sectors 1, 7, 10, 26, 29, 32, 38, 41, 4 and the Chandigarh Botanical Garden and Nature Park.