YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
What do car tires, surgical gloves, pacifiers, and bouncy balls all have in common?
Believe it or not, they might not exist without the help of a special tree!
This week, we’re looking at the rubber tree — an amazing tree that single-handedly supportsso many of the things we enjoy in our daily lives.
Also known as the Hevea brasiliensis, the rubber tree requires a hot, moist climate to thrive. Even a single frostcan ruin the rubber in a tree.
Because of this, the majority of the world’s rubber trees come from the southern regions of Asia — Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia in particular. However, rubber trees are also common in the rainforests of South America.
In the wild, these trees can reach up to 43 meters (140 feet) tall. Their strong roots and thick leaves make life pretty tough for neighbouring plants.
Large rubber tree farms, also known as plantations, help cultivate the trees to ensure they stay healthy.
When injured, rubber trees release latex or resin. Latex is similar to sap, but it contains high levels of natural rubber. When a plant is injured, this latex can seal the wound and help the tree survive.
Rubber trees can take up to six years to grow until they are producing rubber latex reliably.
Once they reach maturity, they’ll continue to produce for roughly 25 years before they’re harvested for their wood and replaced with younger trees.
When grown on plantations, rubber trees reach a much shorter 25 meters (roughly 82 feet) in height. In most cases this is because they’re regularly tapped to harvest their sap.
Farmers harvest rubber latex by cutting a thin, diagonal slit in the trunk of the tree. The sap then flows down this slit, similar to how you scoot down a slide at the park.
It’s then collected in buckets and bags and sent off for processing — much like howmaple plantations harvest sap for maple syrup!
Humans have used rubber latex for a range of applications — from waterproofing clothes to making medical devices — for centuries.
Historians believe that as far back as 1600 B.C., Mesoamericans were using rubber latex in South America.
Today, synthetic rubbers are slightly reducing the demand for natural rubbers. However, there are still some features of natural rubber that can’t be produced in a lab.
As such, rubber trees will likely continue to grow and thrive both in the wild and at plantations for generations to come.
Christopher Columbus reported witnessing natives in Haiti playing with a rubber ball way back in 1495!
The fruit of the rubber tree spreads its seeds by exploding! A single fruit can spread seeds up to 30 meters (100 feet)!
Beware of tree! While rubber trees are non-toxic to humans, they are very toxic to dogs. So if you see one in real life, be sure to keep your pets at a safe distance!
Early Aztecs made rubber latex shoes by dipping their feet and letting them dry repeatedly. Could you imagine wearing rubber socks?!
See real rubber trees in Thailand, and discover how farmers harvest the rubber latex in this fascinating video.