Ficus elastica, also known as a rubber plant, is an odd-looking plant with its huge, soft leaves and exotic name from the tropics of southeast Asia. It can grow to 50 feet with an enormous canopy of draping, foot-long oval leaves. Like many ficus, it has hanging roots and develops flanged trunks over time. In the home, it is an excellent standard plant that thrives with bright light, regular water, warmth, and fertilizer.
F. elastica requires bright, filtered light and can tolerate morning sun. Plants that are kept too dark will become leggy, lose their lower leaves, and the color will become dull instead of glossy and vibrant.
Water frequently. This plant needs to be kept steadily moist. It is vulnerable to excessive dryness. As for soil, any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do. Feed the plant a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season. They are relatively heavy feeders when healthy.
Rubber plants can be propagated from leaf-tip cuttings, but it is not particularly easy. It is probably better to just buy a potted plant. If you attempt to take cuttings, use a rooting hormone and be vigilant about high humidity and plenty of warmth. Do not be discouraged if they do not propagate easily. It is an inexact science that takes some time.
This ficus grows fairly quickly under good conditions and will need to be repotted every year until the plant reaches its desired size. Larger plants can be difficult to repot, so if you cannot move the container, scrape off a few inches of potting media and replace with new potting soil. Some experts recommend only lightly fertilizing indoor plants to prevent stretching and plants becoming root bound because they grow too fast.
The most common variety of this plant is the decora cultivar. This is the most familiar rubber tree with glossy green leaves with a slight reddish or bronze cast to the undersides of the leaves. In general, F. elastica is bred for larger, more glossy leaves. F. elastica robusta has larger leaves than decora, F. elastica black prince or burgundy has near black reddish leaves.
These are not particularly difficult plants, but successfully growing this plant generally means finding the right balance in your environment. That means light but not too light, moist but not wet, enough fertilizer to keep it healthy but not too much to encourage fast growth.
Like other types of ficus, these plants are vulnerable to cool drafts. Plants that are suffering for whatever reason will become leggy, with stretching internodes, and the leaves might first turn yellow and then brown and then drop off entirely. F. elastica look their best when fully clothed with leaves, so take any leaf yellowing seriously (although once a leaf starts to yellow, it is most likely gone already).
If the leaves look full and are drooping, your light levels are probably too high. Ficus elastica is vulnerable to pests including aphids, mealy bugs, mites, scale, and white fly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat with the least toxic option.