Ficus elastica (MORACEAE) Rubber Tree

Weeds to Whack

A large, fast-growing and hardy fig to 40 m from north-east India to Indonesia. Develops an irregular trunk with aerial and buttressing roots, thus spreading sideways as well as up. Broad shiny oval leaves 10-35 cm long. The leaves develop inside a sheath, when mature, the leaf unfurls and the sheath drops off. The fruit is a small yellow-green oval fig 1 cm long, and requires a particular species of fig wasp to pollinate it. Their spreading roots seek out water for great distances, robbing other plants. While they don’t seem to spread quickly by self-seeding when they do occur in natural areas or revegetation sites (possibly by planting or dumping) they dominate the site and starve the native plants. The sap is reported in Wikipedia to be an irritant to the eyes and skin and possibly fatal if taken internally. Not to be confused with the Pará Rubber Tree Hevea brasiliensis a Euphorbiaceae whose latex is the primary commercial source of natural rubber.
Photo: Robert Whyte