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The Rubber Tree

Most of us probably wouldn't recognise the Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) if we saw it, but there's no denying that it's one of the most commercially important trees in existence. There's evidence that the indigenous tribes of the Amazon rainforest have been using rubber for centuries, but it was only with the advent of vulcanisation (heating rubber to create an elastic and durable material) in 1839 that the rubber industry began to boom.

From then, the South American rubber industry really took off and while early attempts to send seeds of the tree across the globe to grow them failed, a few seedlings survived when planted at Kew Gardens in 1875. Seedlings were then sent to Ceylon and Singapore to increase rubber supplies to deal with a rising demand, and the tree continued to grow in popularity across the globe. Now, it's South and South East Asian countries that are the world's biggest rubber producers, with Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and India topping the production tables.


Why is the rubber tree so important?

While tiny versions of the rubber tree are often kept as house plants, the full-sized trees, which can grow up to 30m tall in the wild, are prized for their sap. This milk-coloured sap is latex that can be harvested when the tree reaches about six years old.

The Pará rubber tree is one of many plants that produce latex, but it is by far the biggest commercial source. Those tapping trees for their latex prefer this species as it is easy to cultivate and grow, and the more latex that is removed (under the proper processes), the more the tree will produce in the years to come.


The rubber-making process

Incisions are made in the trees' bark, with the sap collected in buckets - a process that doesn't harm the tree if done properly. After a cut is made, the latex is left to drip into the bucket for around four hours, after which time it is collected - normally multiple incisions are made in each tree on different days.

After the collection period ends, it's important that the latex is collected quickly, as it can coagulate if left, meaning it can't be made into natural rubber. It is then transferred into tanks, where formic acid is used to coagulate the latex to create natural rubber. From here, further processes, such as vulcanisation, can be applied to improve elasticity and durability, as well as to prevent it from perishing.


Did you know...?

- The first known use of natural rubber was to make rubber balls in Mesopotamia

- The seeds of the tree are poisonous, but can be eaten if boiled

- The average rubber tree will yield 19 pounds of latex per year if properly tapped

- Rubber trees can be tapped for up to 28 years of their lives

- The early morning is the best time to tap a rubber tree, as this is when the latex flow is highest

From sheeting to seals, and matting to mouldings, rubber has a whole host of uses in both professional and home settings. Here at Coruba, we stock a huge range of rubber products, all crafted using sustainable sources. Contact us for further information.

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