Rubber Tapping Hevea brasiliensis

12 Interesting Facts About Rubber Trees (Hevea brasiliensis)

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The rubber tree, scientifically known as Hevea brasiliensis, produces the raw material for a vast array of rubber products we use every day. From tires to gloves to elastic bands, natural rubber improves lives around the world.

But how much do you know about the unique tree behind this versatile substance? Read on for 12 fascinating rubber tree facts.

1. Rubber trees originated in the Amazon rainforest

Hevea brasiliensis evolved in the Amazon basin and surrounding tropical forests in South America. Early rubber came from wild trees in the jungles of Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

2. Rubber made the bicycle craze possible

When Charles Goodyear figured out vulcanization in 1839, rubber became durable and weatherproof enough for mainstream use. This kicked off the bicycle craze of the late 1800s by providing air-filled tires that made cycling comfortable.

3. Its sap is called latex

The milky white sap that oozes from rubber trees when you cut into the bark is called latex. This liquid contains 30-40% rubber particles that clump together as the latex dries.

4. You can tap rubber trees for about 30 years

A rubber tree must grow for about seven years before it can be tapped for latex. After making a careful cut in the bark, tappers collect the dripping latex in small cups for several hours. Trees continue producing latex for 20 to 30 years.

Rubber trees

5. Thailand and Indonesia lead in production

While native to South America, almost all natural rubber now comes from Asia. Thailand and Indonesia together supply over 70% thanks to extensive rubber plantations.

6. Rubber plantations threaten rainforests

Huge areas of Southeast Asian rainforests have been cleared to make way for foreign-owned rubber plantations. Since much of the logging is illegal, it devastates habitat for endangered species like orangutans and tigers.

7. Latex allergy affects 1-6% of people

Some folks discover they have a latex allergy when they first blow up a balloon or put on a rubber glove. Latex proteins can cause skin rashes or even life-threatening allergic reactions in sensitive people.

8. You can tap trees without harming them

Rubber tappers are careful to slice bark without cutting into sap-carrying vessels. The trees heal quickly, so judicious tapping every few days yields latex for years without destroying the tree.

9. Rubber wood makes durable furniture

When a rubber tree stops producing enough latex, it gets chopped down for lumber. The wood is resistant to fungus and insects, so it’s excellent for making patio furniture, flooring, and other products.

10. Leaves have extra sugary sap

In spring, rubber trees send sugary sap into newly growing leaves to fuel rapid growth. Bees collect this sweet exudate to make a unique, smoky-flavored rubber honey.

11. Brits smuggled seeds out of Brazil

The British were eager to establish their rubber plantations to avoid reliance on wild South American trees. In 1876, Henry Wickham smuggled Hevea seeds from Brazil to London’s Kew Gardens. Seedlings shipped to tropical Asian colonies led to the first rubber plantations.

12. Synthetic rubber was crucial in WWII

When Japan seized Asian rubber plantations in 1942, the Allies were desperate for rubber to support the war effort. American chemists developed synthetic rubber and boosted production from under 1,000 to over 800,000 tons per year by 1945.

Understanding more about this unique tree helps us appreciate the global impacts of natural rubber as well as the environmental and social concerns behind it. Whether admiring rubber’s history or the science behind it, the versatile rubber tree has surely improved modern life in many ways.

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