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
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 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!