Plant Portrait: The Rubber Tree

Since my blog is about pet safe plants, I wanted to take a moment and talk about the indoor rubber tree, Ficus elastica.

How to Care for Rubber Trees

I always have at least one of my six Rubber trees in my photos. Although not 100% pet safe, Rubber trees have become one of my favorite houseplants. My cats won’t touch or eat them at all, which is why I began to take a liking to them. Plus, they are somewhat easy to take care of, purify the air, and are so unique – especially their giant fleshy leaves and pink underbelly. My biggest rubber tree is Rudy, who has had quite the growth spurt the last year reaching over 5′ tall. :-O

Are Rubber Trees Safe for Pets?

I mention they aren’t totally pet safe – well, here’s why. If you own one of these, you may have already encountered the unpleasant milky liquid that comes out of the leaf if punctured or taken off. This is partially why it’s called a Rubber tree – that sap sticks to you and feels like rubber. Naturally if a cat or dog takes a nibble on the leaves, they would have quite a bit of oral discomfort. They are labeled unsafe for pets and children for that reason.

Variegated Rubber Tree

Nibbling is highly unlikely primarily because they don’t actually look like leaves. My cats have no interest in eating something tough, plastic-y, and awful tasting, but I can’t speak for sadist cats.

A pet safe cousin to the Ficus elastica is Peperomia (below), which is safe for cats and dogs. They’re smaller and sometimes called “american rubber plant” or “baby rubber plant.” A toxic member of the ficus family is the Ficus benjamina, which can sometimes go by “Indian rubber plant.” It really looks nothing like a rubber tree at all. This variety is much more toxic, so I avoid this type of ficus altogether.

Baby Rubber Plant

If you are looking to add a rubber tree to your collection but have cats, check the label to make sure it is either a Ficus elastica or a peperomia. Take it home, monitor your pets for any interest, and you’ll know if you can buy 10 more next week.

Rubber Trees

Caring for Rubber Trees

Ficus elastica, which is what Rudy is, is considered the most common type of Rubber tree. The variegated Ficus tineke (pictured below) is a really pretty rubber tree in the Ficus family – their leaves start out pink with painted green and they turn mostly green and white once they fully open. Be still my heart.

Propagated Ficus Elastica

As far as care, Rubber trees are pretty simple:

Sunlight: Bright, indirect light. Some say these guys like medium light, but they just grow better and are happier in bright light. Rudy and Co. see 6+ hours of sun a day.

Watering: Knowing when to water is difficult, but the brighter location your tree is in, the more you’ll need to water. Rubber trees like to be very dry before you water. Overwatering is common, and they’ll tell you they’re unhappy with yellow leaves.

Humidity: I find my Rudy is much less of a stickler about humidity than say, my Monsteras. I personally don’t think they need an extra humidifier or anything.

Rubber trees grow pretty quickly and you may need to trip them at some point. Don’t worry – I made a whole blog post about Rubber tree propagation so you can grow your Rubber tree collection, one little Rubber tree at a time.

Propagating a Rubber Tree - Leaf and Paw

Have a favorite type of ficus or rubber tree? Leave a comment below!

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  1. This was so helpful! This plant isn’t listed on the ASPCA website and I’m the same way.. more of a “let’s buy it and see if the cat wants to eat it” kinda plant curator. So far my critter’s fave snack is the spider plant and palms (majesty and ponytail). She only seems concerned with grassy, stringy plants and even though pothos and monstera are technically poisonous, she has 0 interest in them. Feeling confident about trying a rubber plant! The pink variegated ones are swoon-worthy! Thanks for sharing your experience

    1. Glad I can help Tabitha! Cats definitely seem to like stringy plants the best, but I know a lot of pet owners like us who have rubber trees who were concerned. I have never had any issues with large leave plants and my cats but my spider plant is another story….

  2. I’ve always wanted a rubber tree!
    Do you have any experience with a ZZ plant? I recently acquired one but have read that they are toxic to cats. Their leaves are not grass-like at all, so I think my cats would avoid them, kind of like yours do with the rubber tree. What do you think?

    1. Hi Kristen! I have a ZZ plant at work only and no longer in my home as they are toxic and my cats liked it a bit too much. I would suggest trying it out and monitoring your cats with the plant and see what happens. Because ZZs are a bit more toxic than Rubber trees, I would be a bit extra cautious. If you see any issues, I’d move it to a tall shelf out of paws reach.