Trees provide paper for our offices, wood for our homes, fruit for our lunches and dinners, jobs for our country’s loggers, jungle gyms for our children, and shade from the sun on a sweltering day. But to my recent astonishment, some trees supply more than just oxygen, paper, and shade — they produce rubber. These special organisms are called — you guessed it — rubber trees (otherwise known as Hevea brasiliensis, parawood, white teak, or Malaysian oak). Their trunks are made of rubberwood, which, contrary to my imagination, is not rubbery like the sole of a tennis shoe or bendy like my childhood Gumby toy. According to the University of Tennessee College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, rubberwood actually is quite stiff and hard; but it’s the milky, latex-y liquid inside the trunk that is used to create the natural rubber.
An agricultural byproduct, the wood is considered environmentally friendly because businesses use rubber trees that are 25 to 30 years old, at the end of their life cycles, as material for furniture, construction, and home products. But you won’t find rubber trees growing in your own backyard; although they are native to South America, they cover millions of acres in countries around the word. Rubber trees are most commonly found in Southeast Asia and are major exports for Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, among other countries.
Products made from rubberwood include home & office furniture, model airplanes, flooring, and woodcrafts. Some home-furnishing critics even say rubberwood is the best choice for bathroom walls, flooring, and fixtures not only because of the wood’s beauty but also because of its natural durability. Since a bathroom is a frequently used area that is subject to wear-and-tear, fungus, and mold due to water leaks and moisture, one critic argues:
“The tropical origin of rubber wood trees means that they are naturally less wearable under moist conditions. They have evolved in wet climates, and that means they are resistant to the ravages that excessive water can bring to other tree species and their wood products.”
In addition, GreenLivingTips.com says rubberwood is like Maple in that it is considered a hardwood and accepts wood stain comparable to Maple. It is a light, pale color and easy to stain if you prefer a deeper shade. So next time you’re looking to remodel an area in your house, remember this wood is not bendy like Gumby or squishy like the soles of your favorite sneaks — it’s durable, beautiful, and could be a great addition to any room in your home.