Ficus Elastica – Care Guide
Ficus Elastica, or Rubber Plants, are a wonderful addition to the home and provide colour diversity in houseplants. They are not to be confused with commercial rubber plants, which are a source of latex for rubber production! Most notably, Ficus Elastica are used to create living root bridges in Meghalaya (Northeastern India), where their roots are gradually shaped to grow together and form bridges across rivers and channels.
Origin: Northeast India, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Burma.
Life Cycle: Evergreen Tree
Light: Ficus Elastica needs fairly good light, but will tolerate low light conditions for periods of time. Partial shade, or a well-lit indoor spot with filtered light, is good for them!
Water: Being a tropical plant, they do need regular watering, but allow the soil to dry in between soakings so as not to have waterlogged roots.
Fertiliser: As with all indoor plants, there is no need to fertilise during winter, but the ficus plant can be fertilised every few weeks during Spring and Summer.
Fruit/ Flowers: In the wild, the tree will produce a fruit that is small and barely edible, but is familiar to a particular fig wasp that pollinates ficus species. This, of course, will not happen if the plant is indoors and small!
Pests & Problems: The plant’s leaves will need to be cleaned with a damp cloth in order to ensure proper light absorption. Ficus Elastica is also susceptible to mealybugs
Growth: Potted, this plant’s growth can be easily controlled to anywhere from 30cm to a metre or so in height, but when planted in soil outdoors, Ficus Elastica takes off! It can grow to 30-40m in the wild. New growth comes from the centre of the plant, where there is a spike (a juvenile leaf). When a leaf becomes too old, it drops off and the spike unfurls to become a brand new leaf. The leaves themselves are broad and around 25cm long.
Repotting/ Propagation: Ficus Elastica is susceptible to becoming root bound, so must be repotted fairly regularly. To maintain the size, loosen the roots and repot into the same or a similar pot. If the roots are tightly wound (matted), they can be cut with secateurs. It is difficult to propagate from stem cuttings, but not impossible, especially if you dip the end of the cutting (once dry) into rooting hormone before planting.
Written by Margaret Dunleavy