Hevea brasiliensis


Hevea brasiliensis, otherwise known as the rubber tree, is a tall (15-40m) deciduous

tree that grows best in tropical climates. Hevea brasiliensis is native to Brasil,

although most trees of the species now grow outside of Brazil. Hevea brasiliensis

grows best in tropical climates, and there are plantations in locales such as Sri

Lanka, Vietnam, and Liberia, Thailand & Malaysia

People indigenous to the Amazon River basin began using Hevea brasiliensis about

a thousand years ago. One use that they found for it was waterproofing, as covering

fabric with latex creates a reliable seal. When Europeans encountered the peoples

living in the Amazon, they noted their use of Hevea brasiliensis fluids and

transported seeds back to Europe. From there the seeds were spread across the

globe.

As uses and demand for latex increased, the need for more trees increased

swiftly. This led to massive latex plantations being planted in tropical climates

worldwide, a significant portion in Asia. Because individual rubber trees can only

produce a relatively small amount of latex at a time, the production of natural

latex occurs at a large scale. Over 12 million tons of natural latex was produced in

2013, requiring millions of trees.


Latex

Latex is the natural fluid that is excreted by the tree when its bark is damaged. It

contains natural compounds such as amino acids and proteins as well as the actual

latex polymers that have become so indispensable to modern life. The raw latex is a

milky substance (it referred to as “milk” by many) that is mostly water, and so it must

be reduced further to be usable as latex.

Some scientists have hypothesized that latex is produced by plants as a defense

mechanism triggered when animals attempt to eat it. Because latex is a naturally

adhesive, almost glue-like substance when first tapped, it easily traps insects.

Amazingly, this natural product evolved for protecting an Amazonian tree has yielded

a wide array of uses that we could not live without today. Thank a rubber tree!