ABOVE: A native of Assam in NE India tapping a Ficus elastica tree grown in one of the first commercial ” rubber plantations.” Note that the “tapper” makes multiple horizontal gouges in the bark and the liquid latex drips out naturally onto bamboo mats placed below the cuts. The natives of Assam were tapping the local Ficus elastica trees long before European plantation owners established large tea and rubber plantations in Assam in the 19th Century. Ficus elastica fig trees treated in this way could only be tapped for a year before needing a two year rest. Photo from Coventry (1906).

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Illustration from Coventry (1906)  Ficus elastica Natural Growth and Artificial propagation

Conventry(1906) Ficus elastica Natural Growth and Artificial Propagation

Nearly all the natural rubber currently produced in the world  originates from Hevea braziliensis plantations in SE Asia previously covered by tropical rain forest.  Ficus elastica is no longer grown for rubber production, because tapping is too complicated and the latex yield is inferior to rival plants such as Hevea brasiliensis or Para Rubber .

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A Hevea brasilienseis rubber tree growing in a small holding in Borneo. Trees are “tapped” on alternate days and rested during the dry season. A thin layer of surface bark is removed before dawn with a special tapping knife  from the bottom of the dark tapping panel  on the tree and the tapper returns three hours later to collect the milky colored latex..
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Each tree produces one cupful of latex every other day. As most rubber plantations are established on hilly land unsuitable for other crops the work cannot be mechanized  and provides a small  daily income for millions of unskilled laborers and small holders. Approx. 100,000  square km  of rain forest has been converted to Hevea plantations in SE Asia.
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Hevea brasiliensis grows wild in the rain forest of the Amazon basin. In the Amazon forests the trees are widely scattered  which makes collection of the latex difficult. Attempts to establish large scale  mono-crop  plantations of Hevea  in Brazil have repeatedly  failed due to the rapid spread of fungal diseases which kill the plantation trees. It is only a matter of time before  the South American Leaf Blight fungus  devastates the  the mono-culture Hevea  plantations in SE Asia including Borneo.
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Seeds of Hevea brasiliensis now a common drift seed along the coasts of Borneo. In Brazil Hevea grows on river flood plains and the seeds are dispersed by rivers and fish.
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The future of natural rubber does not lie with Hevea but with the natural rubber produced by  a species of  Dandelion  Taraxacum kok-saghyz which can be grown and harvested mechanically on vast farms on poor soil in Central Asia.
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Meanwhile Ficus elastica or Rubber Plant  is even more common in cultivation than it was a hundred years ago but  now as an exotic house plant in offices and homes throughout the world.