Rubber is an important commercial agricultural product, collected from the latex of the tree Hevea brasiliensis. It is an indigenous tree of tropical rainforest of Amazon basin of Brazil.



Rubber is useful because of its invaluable qualities such as elasticity, resistance to water and non-conduction of electricity.


It is thus a useful substance for waterproofing, insulating and for use in making pneumatic tyres. Rubber is obtained from various tropical trees such as balata, funtumia elastica and gutta percha, but Hevea tree has become the almost exclusive provider of natural rubber.


Rubber was used by the native Brazilians since time immemorial. But was only introduced into Europe in 18th century. Its actual value as waterproofing agent was realised by Charles Mackintosh who used it on cloth to make water­proof material.


The use of rubber was possible after the discovery of the vulcanizing process in 1839. Charles Goodyear of USA found that, by heating the rubber and mixing it with sulphur a stronger substance could be made with the development of motor car and use of pneumatic tyres after 1895, the importance of rubber becomes well-established.


Rubber cultivation had its beginnings in 1876, when Sir Henry Wickham brought Hevea seeds to Kew Gardens in London where he succeeded in germi­nating trees which he sent to Sri Lanka. Following this experiment, numerous plantations begun in the British and Malay Archipelago, the regions which long supplied most of the world’s natural rubber.


In early phase of rubber production Amazon basin and African tropics were the main producers, but with the growth of commercial rubber plantation agriculture, the South-East Asian region becomes its main producer. Today, the South-East Asian countries of Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand and India produce more than 90 per cent of the world’s total production of natural rubber.


Rubber cultivation in plantation is a systematic agriculture in which first seeds have been raised in a nursery. When the rubber seedlings are about 5 cm in diameter buds from high yielding clones are grafted on to the seedlings. This grafted section forms the main part of the tree.


The trees are placed at an interval of between 3.5 to 6 meters in regular rows. Rubber tree has a gestation period of 5 to 7 years. Cover crops are usually planted between the seedling trees to prevent soil erosion.


The fully grown rubber tree is a large, smooth-barked tree with branches springing out at some height from the ground.

The tree yields latex – a white milky liquid which comes out when the bark is cut. Tapping is the carefully controlled cutting of the bark to release the latex. The latex runs out into small cups attached to the tree and collected by the tappers. Rubber trees can be tapped for about 35 years.


The collected latex is first coagulated into soft, spongy blocks by adding formic acid or acetic acid. This makes it solid and produces sheets which are cut into standard size. There are several other ways of processing the rubber. The latest processing method is to produce Hevea crumb. This is done by adding a mixture of chemicals to the rubber to form a mass of crumb like pieces.