Ficus elastica ‘Variegata’: Rubber Plant

One would be hard put to find a more typical house plant than the rubber plant, and yet it is not the most suitable for indoor cultivation since if the growing conditions are not correct it generally drops its leaves, and so one very often comes across specimens with long stout trunks and only a cluster of leaves at the top. Moreover, if conditions are favourable it fairly rapidly grows too tall. Furthermore, it requires relatively cool conditions (about 15°C [59°F]) in winter and this may be difficult to provide for in the modern home. The latter problem is done away with by the variegated cultivars, for example the ‘Variegata’, which generally requires warmer conditions.

The type species is native to the East Indies and Malaysia, where it commonly grows to a height of 25 m (80 ft) and is used in avenues, the crowns being pruned to a round shape. There is no need to describe it for it is well known to all. More important are the cultivars, be it the and other variegated forms or ‘Decora’, a larger type with thicker, broader and shorter leaves, discovered amongst seedlings in the 1940s.

The growing medium should be a blend of loam, rotted turves, leaf mould and peat, or John Innes potting compost No. 1 or 2, depending on the size. Water should be applied fairly liberally but only when the surface dries. Ficus does not tolerate watering concurrently with a stream of cold air in winter when the room is being aired, its reaction to this being browning or immediate dropping of the leaves.

The genus Ficus embraces some 650 species from climbers through twiners and shrubs to huge trees. A great many are already in cultivation and many more will surely be introduced in future years. Some of the loveliest and most suitable for growing as house plants are F. lyrata, F. retusa, F. benjamina, and F. benghalensis. Excellent for very warm and humid places is F. parcellii, a shrubby plant with large green leaves marbled with dark green, white and grey, which are hairy. The reliable F. diver-sifolia, which can also be grown as an epiphyte, is recommended for small spaces.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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