Facts about the Rubber Tree - Description and Uses
The Rubber Trees were first discovered by the Olmec, Mayans and the Aztecs. The Rubber Tree is also known as the Para Rubber Tree or the Sharinga tree. It is native to the rain forests of the Amazon region of South America – Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.
Rubber Trees are found in low- altitudes in wetlands, riparian zones and forest gaps. They are commonly found in regions of Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China, India, Papua New Guinea in Asia and Liberia and Gabon in Africa.
A significant part of world’s rubber comes from the plantations of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
The seeds from these trees were transported to the rubber plantations in parts of Europe by explorers and colonists.
Point to Note
The genus Hevea is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family.
Only three species of this genus produce latex that can be used to make rubber products – Hevea brasiliensis, Hevea guianensis and Hevea brnthamiana.
Other species of the genus Hevea are not tapped for rubber because they have more resin content than latex in their sap.
This article will be dealing with the Rubber Tree, Hevea brasiliensis in detail.
Description of the Rubber Tree - Hevea brasiliensis
The botanical name of the Rubber Tree is Hevea brasilienis. It belongs to the genus Euphorbiaceae.
The Rubber Tree is a tropical tree that grows to a height in the range of 30 meters – 40 meters and has a leafy crown. It has a cylindrical trunk that is swollen towards the base.
The Rubber Trees that are grown in plantations grow only to a height of up to 25 meters because they are tapped for latex constantly.
The leaves of the Rubber Tree are arranged in spirals, and each leaf has three leaflets. The flowers are small and have no petals.
The flowers of the Rubber Tree are cream to yellow in color and have a pungent smell. The male and female flowers are found on the same tree.
The fruit of the Rubber Tree is a capsule and explodes to release and disperse the seeds. The seeds are scattered 30 meters away from the tree.
What is latex? How is latex collected?
The latex of the Rubber Tree is a mixture of organic compounds secreted by specialized cells called laticifers. The latex is white in color and is thick in consistency.
How is latex collected from the Rubber Tree
The Rubber Trees can be tapped for latex only after about six years of growth. To collect the latex, a thin cut is made diagonally on the tree trunk and the silver bark is removed. The latex flows out from the cut into a collecting chute and runs into a bucket that is hung below the cut.
The latex keeps flowing for about six hours. The Rubber Tree is allowed to rest for six days, and another fresh cut is made to collect latex. Harvesting latex from the tree does not cause any harm to the tree.
After collection, the latex is processed to make sheets of rubber which are then sent to manufacturing factories.
There are two types of rubber, natural rubber from rubber trees and synthetic rubber made by using petrochemicals. Crude oil is the primary raw material used in the production of synthetic rubber.
Uses of the Rubber Tree (Hevea brasiliensis)
Natural rubber is used in the production of tyres. Around 70% of the world’s natural rubber goes into manufacturing tyres in the automobile industries.
Natural rubber has to be vulcanised before using them to manufacture tyres. Vulcanization is the process of heating of natural rubber with sulphur to make it strong and durable.
Natural Rubber is also used to manufacture the following -
- conveyor belts
- surgeon’s gloves
- marine products
- windshield wipers
- rubber gaskets
- hose and tubing
- vibration isolators
- shock mounts
- electrical components
- tubing for orthodontic bands
Interesting Facts About the History of Rubber
The Mesoamerican people like the Mayans and the Aztecs were the first to tap rubber from the Rubber trees found in Central and South America.
The Mesoamericans dried the latex that they collected from the Rubber Tree and made play balls. They dipped their feet in the freshly collected latex and allowed them to dry. They repeated this process several times until they were able to peel off a shoe from their skin.
After they had removed the shoes from their skin, they smoked the rubber shoes to harden them. They also used the latex to waterproof their clothing.
Joseph Priestley used rubber for the very first time to erase lead marks made by pencil. He coined the term rubber because he was able to remove the lead marks by rubbing off the pencil marks.
Importance of the Latex of the Rubber Tree
Rubber trees are grown in plantations to harvest latex for the production of natural rubber. This does not harm the Rubber Tree. The Rubber Tree produces latex as long as it lives, but the production of latex may decrease with age.
Natural rubber has properties that make it useful in many manufacturing industries. Natural rubber has made high-quality rubber products possible in many fields of application.