The large, glossy leaves of the rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica) bring a taste of the tropics to your home or yard. Whether you have the plant indoors or grow it outside in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 to 11, this plant loves bright light, warm weather and humidity. In its native environment the rubber tree plant reaches heights 30 to 45 feet. Indoors, the plant grows to 6 to 10 feet. You can generate cuttings to produce another plant.
The rubber tree plant has a sticky, milky sap that is considered poisonous, and may irritate your skin. Wear gloves when you take cuttings from the soft wood of the plant. Choose a healthy stem at any time of the year. You need about 6 to 8 inches of a stem that has two or three leaf nodes intact. A leaf node is where the leaves attach to the stem. New roots sprout from these nodes when they are planted in a sterile planting medium for six to eight weeks.
You can also propagate a rubber tree plant from leaf-bud cuttings. When you look at the rubber tree's leaves, some of them will have a slight bump protruding in the axil where the leaf attaches to the stem. This is called a leaf bud and will sprout another rubber tree when it is planted. To generate a leaf-bud cutting, cut the stem slightly below and slightly above the leaf containing the bud. Plant the cutting so the bud is about 1 inch below the surface of a sterile planting medium. Rubber tree plants are slow to root, which means the cutting may take two months to produce roots and new growth.
Another form of leaf cutting is called a heel cutting. You need a small section of the stem -- a heel -- to remain on the petiole -- the leaf stem -- when you remove the leaf from the plant. One of the best ways to take this cutting is with a utility knife or razor blade. You need the outer layer of the stem attached to the petiole. Start about 1/4 inch above the petiole and cut a circle, spacing the leaf petiole in the middle of the circle. Peel the heel cutting away from the plant stem. You must plant the cutting so the heel lays horizontally in the planting medium and the leaf sticks up from the soil.
Care of Cuttings
All types of rubber tree plant cuttings need a slightly moist, sterile planting medium in which to grow. Provide a humid environment with a plastic bag or cover over the container. The cuttings need a bright light, but direct sunlight will cause excessive heat that could kill the cuttings. If you remove the plastic cover every day, the cuttings receive fresh air and there is less chance of mold developing. The rubber tree plant cuttings can take six to eight weeks or longer to develop roots. Keep the soil slightly moist during the rooting process. Once roots develop, remove the plastic cover.