Rubber is made from the white latex which flows in the inner bark of the rubber tree. The latex is tapped by making a series of cuts into the bark. Natural rubber is a renewable resource and is still important because of its unique qualities, not found in synthetic rubber. It is estimated that up to 50,000 different products are made either directly or indirectly from rubber. Special applications include tyres for the space shuttle, rubber gloves and contraceptives.
Kew has had a long association with the rubber tree, a plant native to the Amazon. In June 1876 Kew received 70,000 seeds of rubber, collected by Henry Wickham in Amazonian Brazil. The seeds were planted, but only 2,800 germinated. Some of the seedlings were sent to Sri Lanka and Malaysia where they did well, were propagated, and later became the basis for the huge rubber industry in these and other Asiatic countries.
Find out more
You can see a rubber tree in the Palm House at Kew
Search Kew's electronic Plant Information Centre for scientific information about Hevea brasiliensis
"everything you ever wanted to know about rubber" at www.bouncing-balls.com