Sustainable Rubberwood Plantations
Rubberwood is a material that is taken from the tree named Hevea brasiliensis, also known as the Rubber Tree or Para Rubber Tree.
The tree itself is native to South America though it is now heavily cultivated in Southeast Asia, where according to 1999 records, 80 per cent of plantations are based there. Out of that, 70 per cent are based in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
If left uninhibited by natural threats or man, the tree can grow to well over 100 feet, though cultivated trees are known for being much shorter, largely due to the tapering of their trunks which are around 20 inches in diameter.
Cultivated trees are left to live for around thirty years until their latex production declines, at which point they are often harvested for wood and new trees are planted in their place. Their latex sap is commercially valuable and the trees have been tapped (a process where holes are made in the tree from which the sap bleeds), for hundreds of years.
Tapping the wood needs to be carefully done as if the tapper were to cut through the cambium, fungi introduced by the knife will produce dark stains in the wood, which is considered a major defect. Although there are now synthetic alternatives to the sap, the industry is still strong throughout Southeast Asia.
For successful growth, it is expected that the trees are grown at a level of 3,000 feet above sea level in well-drained soil. To accompany this, the trees require an average temperature of around 28°C with an annual rainfall of 2,000 millilitres.
Typically, a rubber tree will lose its leaves in January, often during a dry spell. They can return, along with fruit, from July right through to September during a period known as the ‘seed fall’ where the fruit is literally heard exploding on the ground when exposed to sunlight.
The wood produced by the tree is light in colour with narrow slithers of brown. Despite its name, rubberwood is in fact not rubbery in consistency but hard and is often compared to Maplewood. Sometimes however, the wood goes under the trade name of ‘parawood’ to dissuade unfavourable concepts of rubber from the wood.
One of the many benefits of the tree is due to the fact that it is considered by many as a commercially sustainable source of wood, as it is always replanted and has been used across many commercial sectors including the wooden toy and furniture industries; meaning that other, more endangered trees are not used for manufacturing purposes.