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Rubber trees

Sun, 05/26/2013 - 3:54am
Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog

I think rubber trees are pretty cool, dripping out nice latex is just neat.

photo of rubber trees

Photo of rubber trees in Khao Lak, Thailand

Latex is collected from trees which is then treated to make rubber. Hevea brasiliensis (originally found the Amazon basin in Brazil), the Pará rubber tree, sharinga tree, or, most commonly, the rubber tree, is a tree belonging to the family Euphorbiaceae. Gutta-percha (Palaquium) is a genus of tropical trees native to Southeast Asia. The milky latex extracted from the trees is the primary source of natural rubber. Now refining petroleum is an alternative way for creating products that required rubber previously, but rubber is still economically important.

In 1876, Henry Wickham gathered thousands of para rubber tree seeds from Brazil, and these were germinated in Kew Gardens, England. The seedlings were then sent to India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Indonesia, Singapore and British Malaya (now Malaysia). Malaya was later to become the biggest producer of rubber. In the early 1900s, the Congo, Liberia and Nigeria also became significant producers of natural rubber latex.

photo of a rubber tree seed

Rubber tree seed from near Fraser’s Hill, Malaysia, by John Hunter.


11 million tons of natural rubber was produced in 2011, of which approximately 42% was natural (from trees rather than created by processing petroleum). Asia accounted for 93% of the production of natural rubber (with Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia accounting for most of that total). Rubber latex is extracted from rubber trees. The total synthetic production of rubber in 2011 was 15 million tons, with Asia accounting for approximately 50% of production. (source International Rubber Study Group )

The economic life period of rubber trees in plantations is around 32 years – up to 7 years of immature phase and about 25 years of productive phase.

The trees have to be repeatedly cut (tapped) to keep the flow of latex going. The cut must be careful to avoid going too deep and damaging the cambial layer. The cuts must be repeated several times a day to keep the flow going, otherwise the tree will seal the cut and stop the flow. My memory is that the trees in Thailand were tapped twice a day, but maybe it is more frequent.

The first use of rubber was by the Olmecs, who centuries later passed on the knowledge of natural latex from the Hevea tree in 1600 BC to the ancient Mayans. They boiled the harvested latex to make a ball for a Mesoamerican ballgame.

Natural rubber is often vulcanized, a process by which the rubber is heated and sulfur, peroxide or bisphenol are added to improve resistance and elasticity, and to prevent it from perishing.

Some facts are taken from the Wikipedia page on natural rubber which also includes more details.

Photo of rubber being collected from rubber tree

Collecting rubber from a rubber tree in Thailand. I took this photo during my trip to Khao Lak, Thailand.

Does anyone know how to fix photos that Preview on mac shows in the proper orientation but WordPress doesn’t? It is annoying that software don’t make visible that actual image (if an image editing program decides to use hidden magic to show some modified version of a file, it should at least make an obvious way to see the real image or how are you suppose to edit it to be what you want?).

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