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Castilla Elastica: The Mexican Rubber Tree

The Mexican rubber tree, Castilla Elastica (also known as the Panama rubber tree or Mastate Blanco) grows in the northern region of South America and in the northern and southern regions of Mexico.

A member of the Moraceae family, it's a hardy tree that grows to a height of around 40 metres in a moist lowland forest habitat – it grows at a fast rate. Noted for attracting wildlife, the flowers on this deciduous tree are pollinated by insects and birds.

Mexican Rubber tree

© THAWISAK / Adobe Stock

 

Ideal conditions

The species can't grow in the shade and prefers well-drained soil that remains moist, in daytime temperatures of between 23°C and 30°C. Ideally, it thrives where the annual rainfall is between 2,300mm and 2,700mm, although it can tolerate rainfall as low as 2,000mm and as high as 3,000mm per year.

Although it prefers the moist lowland tropics, it can be found at heights of up to 500 metres. The tropical weather of Mexico is ideal for the fruitful growth of the rubber trees.

Members of this species have several lateral roots that spread horizontally, fairly near the soil's surface, so this makes it difficult to grow other crops in the vicinity.

 

What is tapping?

Tapping the Castilla Elastica tree for its latex begins seven years after it has been planted. Trees aged between eight and ten years old are able to yield around 25kg of latex. The tapping is carried out by slicing a groove in the tree's bark at a depth of a quarter-inch, using a hooked knife.

The bark is then peeled back every night in a downward half-spiral along the tree trunk. When this is carried out with skill by a careful worker, the tapping panel can produce latex for around five hours. After one side of the trunk has yielded latex, it is allowed to heal, while the other side is tapped using the same process.

The latex runs down the spiral and into a collecting cup. Tapping is done overnight because it needs to be completed before the temperature rises during the day. If done in the daytime heat, the latex wouldn't drip for as long and it would coagulate to seal the cut more quickly.

The tapping process doesn't damage the forest and is a sustainable practice, as long as the tree trunks are given time to heal once they have been tapped.

Latex is collected for processing into rubber

 

Uses for latex

Once it has been harvested, the latex dries out, becoming tough and resilient. As well as being sold and used commercially, it is popular among local people who manufacture items such as rubber balls, and it is also the material used to produce waterproof fabrics. Using natural dyes, it can be tinted, so it can be used for local handicraft production.

The bark that is cut off doesn't go to waste, as it's beaten to manufacture mats, hardy clothing and blankets, although it’s main use is for fuel.

The tree was the main source of latex for the Mesoamerican people in pre-Columbian times and this remains the case today.

Coruba offers a wide range of the highest-quality rubber products, including rubber matting for many industries and sectors. For further information on our products, give us a call on 01702 560194 or email info@coruba.co.uk and we'll get right back to you.



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