Rubber plants are fantastic for the garden or indoor plant displays. Their large leaves are excellent for increasing the air quality in a room. In India, people manipulate rubber plant roots to grow over rivers and ravines, creating living bridges. These amazing plants can live for a hundred years.
Rubber plants have many names, such as rubber fig, rubber tree, and Indian rubber bush. Their scientific name is Ficus elastica, and they belong to the Moraceae plant family. This family is the same as fruit-bearing or banyan fig and mulberry trees.
Most Asian countries are the natural home of rubber plants. These plants play a significant role in the culture and religion of these regions.
Rubber plants can grow to one hundred to one hundred and thirty feet. Rubber plants grown indoors usually grow to six to eight feet depending on the growing conditions. Rubber plants growing outdoors have a strong thick trunk almost seven feet in diameter.
The rubber plant is known for growing aerial and buttress or plank roots. The roots that can be seen growing on top of the soil are characteristic of rubber plants. They are essential to support the hefty branches and keep the tree upright.
Another distinctive feature of the rubber plant is the enormous leaves that grow to eighteen inches long. The leaves are largest on young plants or those grown indoors. As the plant ages and becomes bigger, the leaves get smaller.
The leaves are usually dark, glossy green, but some cultivars have variegated leaves with a pinkish blush. These cultivars are mostly grown indoors for their ornamental value.
1. Fiddle Leaf Fig
Fiddle leaf fig trees are from the same family and genus as rubber plants. Their botanical name is Ficus lyrata. They are sometimes called banjo figs and grow natively in the lowland tropical rainforests of West Africa.
Fiddle leaf figs growing in their natural environment are thirty-nine to fifty feet tall. They can be grown indoors where the plants reach eight to ten feet. Fiddle leaf figs form an ideal display for double-volume rooms. They are tricky plants to grow indoors, having specific growing requirements.
Fiddle leaf figs, like rubber plants, have very large leaves. Their leaves are shaped like a fiddle or banjo with a broad apex that tapers at the midsection.
The leaves are eighteen inches long and twelve inches wide. The fiddle leaf fig surface is bright shiny green with a leathery appearance. The veins are prominent, causing slight indentations in the leaf surface and wavy margins.
Ficus lyrate may bear figs in the wild or when grown in a garden, but they do not produce fruit when grown indoors. They prefer well-draining soil rich in organic matter.
2. Banana Tree
Banana trees are classified as the largest herbaceous flowering plant. They are from the Musaceae family and the Musa genus. Although it is common to refer to a banana tree, they are not trees, as they do not have a true woody stem.
Banana trees grow outdoors to heights of ten to thirty feet. They are smaller when grown indoors. Some cultivars have been adapted to be smaller and grow indoors. These banana cultivars are usually two to six feet tall.
Bananas grow rapidly, making them popular with gardeners who want to fill spaces quickly in their gardens. There are more than one thousand banana cultivars to choose from.
Bananas grow from an underground plant stem known as a corm. The ‘trunk’ of the banana tree is a false or pseudo stem as it is soft and fleshy. The leaves are attached to the false stem by petioles (leaf stalks).
Banana leaves are large, like rubber plants. They can be nine to ten feet long and two feet wide. The new leaves are a glossy light green and darken by a few shades as they mature. The wind often tears the edges of banana leaves, giving them a frilled appearance. This is particularly common when they are grown in high wind areas such as along the coast.
Related: 5 Plants That Look Like Banana Trees
Peperomias belong to the Piperaceae or pepper plant family. They grow indigenously in South America, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, Asia, Oceania, and parts of Africa. Peperomias may be called baby rubber plants, radiator plants, and shining bush plants.
There are thousands of peperomia species, but the ones that most resemble rubber plants are those with big leaves. They are generally smaller than rubber plants, making them a good option for a gardener with limited space.
These are some peperomia plants species that look like rubber plants:
Peperomia obtusifolia is the species most commonly called baby rubber plant. Another common name for this species is pepper face peperomia. They have thick, leathery leaves similar to rubber plants, although they only grow to around twelve inches.
Some Peperomia obtusifolia cultivars have variegated leaves. The color variations include cream, ivory, and yellow on a dark green leaf. The pattern of the color includes marbling and light-colored leaf edges.
Peperomia argyreia is called watermelon peperomia and sometimes the watermelon begonia. They have large heart-shaped leaves with silver and dark green stripes that resemble watermelons. The leaf is attached by a deep red leaf stalk, adding to the plant’s appeal.
Peperomia Polybotrya is called the raindrop peperomia. The leaves are oval and taper to a point to form a raindrop shape. It is an eye-catching plant that grows twelve inches high.
Related: 10 Plants That Look Like Peperomia
4. Elephant Ears (Colocasia)
Colocasia is better known by its common name of elephant ears. This plant belongs to the Araceae family and is indigenous to southeastern Asia and some parts of India. It was taken to Africa by Portuguese traders during the fifteenth century and was cultivated as a staple food source.
The leaves are large, like a rubber plant. They range in size from seven inches to sixty inches. The shape of the leaves resembles an elephant’s ear or a shield. The leaves vary in color but are usually bright glossy green with clearly visible veins.
The leaves grow on a thick fleshy stalk. Although Colocasia is eaten, it must first be soaked and cooked to neutralize calcium oxalate crystals which irritate the mouth and lips. Uncooked plants can cause digestive upsets.
Elephant ears can be grown in window boxes, containers or the garden. They prefer dappled or partial shade in hot climates. They have moderate water requirements and do best in soil that retains water.
Related: Are Elephant Ears Poisonous?
5. Prayer Plant (Calathea Orbifolia)
Calathea orbifolia belong to the Marantaceae family and are often called prayer plants. It is found growing naturally in the tropical rainforests of South America. They grow to approximately thirty-two inches tall.
These beautiful plants have round leaves with wavy edges. The leaves are a striking combination of bright green and silvery green stripes that run along the veins of the leaves.
The leaves grow to sixteen inches long, making them a good alternative to rubber plants. Calatheas leaves move during the day and close up at night.
Calathea orbifolia bear star-shaped white flowers when they are grown outdoors. They seldom flower when grown indoors.
Calatheas are adapted to grow under the forest canopy, so they do best in bright indirect light. Rainforest conditions of high humidity and temperatures should be reproduced when growing this plant indoors.
The plant leaves should be misted regularly to keep moisture levels high. Although it has high water needs, it does not grow well in water-logged soil. Ensure there is good drainage to keep the Calathea plant healthy.
Prayer plants grow best in fertile, loose soil with good drainage. They are heavy feeders, and gardeners should supply additional compost to the soil to get the best results from planting Calathea.
Calathea orbifolia is a good option for households with pets and small children as it is safe and contains no toxic or irritating substances.