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.

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 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!