Plants

Rubber Fig

Ficus elastica

Verena Schmidt Verena Schmidt

With its smooth, dark green leaves, the Rubber fig is a welcome guest in any living room. These tips will help you enjoy yours for a long time to come.

Growth type
  • small tree
Growth height (from)
from 50.00cm to 300.00cm
Growth width (from)
from 50.00cm to 150.00cm
Growth characteristics
  • umbrella-shaped
  • sweeping
  • upright
Flower shape
  • none
Leaf color
  • green
page format
  • ovate
  • full margined
  • pointed
Sheet properties
  • evergreen
Light
  • scattered light to semi-shade
Soil type
  • sandy
Soil Moisture
  • fresh to moderately humid
ph value
  • neutral
Lime compatibility
  • lime-tolerant
Nutrient requirements
  • moderately nutritious
Humus
  • rich in humus
Decorative or utility value
  • Leaf ornaments
Toxicity
  • weakly poisonous
Winter Hardness
  • frost-sensitive
Use
  • Single position
  • Interior greening
  • Planters
  • Winter garden
Garden style
  • Pot garden

General

The Rubber fig (Ficus elastica) is part of the Ficus genus and is a classic houseplant. It was present in many living rooms and offices up to the 1980s, when people had grown tired of it. It’s now experiencing a comeback. In its native lands of eastern India and Indonesia, this evergreen fig, which is part of the mulberry family, grows to between 22 and 27 yards high with a trunk up to 2.2 yards thick.

The Rubber fig came to Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. It is especially prized as a houseplant thanks to its sturdy and smooth dark green leaves. Like the Weeping fig and other species within the Ficus genus, the rubber fig produces a secretion containing latex when injured, which can be used to make natural rubber. However, tropical rubber plantations generally grow rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) as these produce a better harvest.

Growth and Flowers

When grown as a houseplant, the rubber fig can grow to around 3.3 to 6.6 feet tall and 2.6 to 3.3 feet wide. Up to 12 inches long, its leathery leaves are alternately arranged, full margin, broad oval leaves with distinctive points. The leaf stalks measure 0.79 to 1.97 inches long. The top side of the leaf is a glossy dark green with or without yellow variegation depending on the variety. The underside is light green. Ficus elastica houseplants rarely flower. They have to be pollinated by the Fig wasp in order to grow seeds. The fruit of the Rubber fig is a small yellow-green, oval, unpalatable fig. If the location is sufficiently bright, the Rubber fig will form a broad, brachiate crown. However, if there is not sufficient light, the main stem will produce few to no side shoots.

Location and Substrate

The Rubber fig prefers a bright to partially shaded and warm location that remains around room temperature. The temperature should not fall below 64 degrees Fahrenheit and draughts should be avoided. Regular houseplant or leafy plant soil or sandy soil with a high proportion of coconut fiber should be used as the substrate. In summer, the Ficus elastica can also be grown outdoors on a balcony or terrace. It must be in partial shade so that the leaves don’t burn.

Rubber fig (Ficus elastica “Abidjan”)

Rubber fig (Ficus elastica “Abidjan”)

Watering and Fertilizer

You should water your Rubber fig sparingly and only if the top of the soil has dried out from the previous watering. To ensure the root ball isn’t too moist and to prevent waterlogging, it may make sense to completely submerge the soil ball in water until it is fully saturated. It can then be returned to its original position, where it will be able to draw from the moist soil for a long time. In spring and summer, the rubber fig can be fed every two weeks with regular houseplant fertilizer. If the plant becomes root-bound, it may be repotted.

Additional care tips

As the leaves of the Rubber fig are very large, they gradually develop a layer of dust, which stands out from the smooth dark green background and becomes unsightly over time. To clean it, you can put the whole Ficus elastica into the shower and simply rinse it off. Beforehand, wrap the whole inner pot and root ball in a plastic bag to prevent it from becoming saturated with water. To prevent drying marks, you should wipe the leaves with a damp cloth after rinsing. You can also wipe the leaves with a cloth soaked in beer to restore their shine. Young Rubber figs grow voraciously in good light, so should be repotted every two years. Older plants will only need to be replanted every four to five years.

Rubber figs are also very tolerant to pruning. If the plant is not producing side shoots on its own, you can simply clip the stem above a leaf to encourage the formation of side shoots. A dense crown will only form in good light conditions, such as in a large south-facing window or conservatory. You should ideally prune a Rubber fig outdoors, as sap may irreversibly stain rugs or clothing. You should only bring the Ficus elastica back indoors once the secretion at the cutting points has dried thoroughly.

Propagation

If you would like to propagate a Rubber fig, you can choose from several possible methods. It can be propagated through cuttings taken from side shoots. Remove all leaves apart from the top one from the cuttings and let the cutting points dry slightly. Shorten the cutting to around 2.36 to 3.15 inches from the top leaf and then place it in a narrow glass filled to around one third with water. The water should be changed every two days. Alternatively, you can also place the directly into a pot with slightly moist potting soil. The pot can then be covered with plastic or placed in a plastic bag. This can be closed with clothes pegs and ventilated every now and then. After around four to eight weeks, the cuttings will hopefully have formed roots in either case.

Propagating Ficus elastica rubber fig with cuttings

The Rubber fig “bleeds” a little at cutting points, secreting a white sap. These should simply be blotted with a cloth and left to dry

To rejuvenate old Rubber figs and create a new plants, they can be propagated using air layering in spring. The plant should have as many leaves as possible. Use a sharp knife to first make a level cut under a leaf bud – usually under the fourth pair of leaves from the tip – then make an angled cut underneath pointing upwards through the middle of the stem. Finally, force the cut apart with a small wedge or piece of wood. Place a wet ball of moss around the cut, pressing it and covering it with plastic wrap. Secure the plastic moss parcel with a little bast fiber above and underneath the notch. Roots should form around the cut after roughly six weeks. Underneath the cut, you can now remove the rooted shoot from the parent plant and pot it in humus-rich soil.

Diseases and Pests

The Rubber fig is generally considered resilient to disease and pests. If the plant does fall foul to pests, these are usually Mealybugs. You can spot an infestation by the leaves drying out and turning yellow. To tackle this, the Rubber fig should be isolated from all other houseplants immediately. Neem oil can help to get rid of scale insects. A mixture of paraffin oil, water and dish soap sprayed onto the leaves, as well as rinsing the leaves, has proven effective. Ficus elastica is often also infested by dark-winged fungus gnats and thread-footed mites.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where did the Rubber fig get its name?

Just like the Rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), the Rubber fig (Ficus elastica) secretes a substance containing latex when injured, which can be used to make natural rubber. This is used to make rubber. Commercially extracted natural rubber mostly comes from the rubber tree as this offers a better yield.

Where does the Rubber fig come from?

The Rubber fig originally came from the East Indies and Indonesia. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Rubber fig was brought to Europe.

How large does the Rubber fig get?

As a houseplant, the Rubber fig can grow up to 3.3 to 6.6 feet tall and up to 3.3 feet wide.

What kind of soil is suitable for Rubber figs?

Regular houseplant or leafy plant soil is suitable, as well as sandy soil with a high proportion of coconut fiber.

What kind of fertilizer is suitable for Rubber figs?

In spring and summer, the Rubber fig should ideally be fed every two weeks with regular houseplant fertilizer.

How often should you water a Rubber fig?

Rubber figs should be watered sparingly. Only water once the soil at the top has dried out. Alternatively, you can also dunk the root ball in water until saturated.

How did you like this Article?