Plant Portrait: Variegated Rubber Plant

The variegated rubber plant, known as Ficus elastica tineke is possibly one of the prettiest plants of this year. A sister to Ficus elastica, Ficus tineke is basically an impressionist rubber tree; pink painted leaves with white and green, these babies are beautiful.

Variegated rubber tree by littleandlush
Photo from the lovely Anna @littleandlush

Some of you may already know my big boi Rudy the Rubber tree, who was my first real plant and began my deep spiral into plant parenthood. I rescued Tilda (below) in 2017 shortly after. Spindly and sad, she was glued into a Mother’s Day vase, sold as a “succulent” with fake rocks and crummy soil. Tilda’s recovered but has grown only a few inches since then. I’ll add that Rudy is well over 5′ tall.

Ficus ruby, Rubber fig tree, and Ficus doescheri (which is primarily white and green) are some other names for these that are sometimes interchanged with Ficus tineke. If you’re completely new to Rubber plants, I strongly suggest reading this post about them, but if you’re here for just Ficus tineke info, I strongly suggest you still read this post. They are basically the same plant but I’ll summarize anyway.

Basic Care

I’ll be upfront about this, I find Ficus tineke a bit fussier than plain Rubber trees. Variegation tends to make plants’ needs higher and grow slower since they lack chlorophyll. I also find tineke a bit more susceptible to pests and general issues, but who cares they’re really pretty.

Variegated rubber plant at Buffalo Botanical Gardens

Sunlight: Variegated rubber plants like bright light but cooler temperatures. In fact, many variegated plants prefer cooler temperatures – that’s what creates more variegation. Bright, daily sunlight is necessary but harsh direct sun can damage their fragile leaves. I like to keep all variegated plants a few feet away from windows so they get the light without any possibility of sizzling.

Watering: A horrible offender of rubber trees is overwatering. More often than not, this is the cause of death. It is horribly difficult for a rubber tree (or any plant, really) to bounce back after a perpetual soggy bottom. Let Ficus elastica dry out a bit between waterings; I water all of them once a week. Tilda and Rudy live in Southwest windows.

Humidity: All ficuses like humidity but Ficus elastica really love it. Ample humidity keeps leaves supple and from drying out on the edges. Adding a humidifier during the winter helps everyone, including your skin.

Feeding: I actually don’t feed Tilda any fertilizer. I do feed Rudy this fertilizer during his growing season (April-September) but variegated plants can suffer if they’re overfed. For some reason, they are more likely to get fertilizer burn which is sometimes mistaken for lack of humidity – dry crispy leaf edges or brown leaf spots. If you want to fertilize, just be sure it’s diluted enough.

Are Ficus’ Toxic To Pets?

Yeah, kinda. In my Rubber tree post that you should read, I say that Ficus elastica and Ficus tineke are toxic to cats and dogs. And they are, kind of. Because of the general unpleasant rubbery texture, my cats avoid them. The toxicity issue for cats, dogs or hungry children stems from the milky sap that excretes when a leaf is removed. This is what causes irritation and is ultimately why variegated rubber trees (and regular) are considered unsafe.

Cat and rubber trees

Ficus Tineke Problems

As I mention above, I found that my Ficus tinieke suffers more issues than Rudy, and I attribute it to the variegation. Here are some problems I’ve encountered and some ways to fix them:

Brown spots on variegated leaves on ficus tineke.

Brown Spots: Almost every variegated rubber plant I see has some kind of brown spots (above), whether dry edges on leaves or damage in the middle of leaves. Rubber trees like humidity and dry air can cause these brown spots or dry tips. Harsh direct sun hitting the leaves can scorch them leaving unsightly blemishes even Sephora can’t cover. Also, be sure you aren’t over-fertilizing.

Dull leaves: Spider mites and thrips are the worst offenders for rubber trees. Rudy was hit with spider mites BAD and finally recovered but was left with dulled leaves with a metallic sheen on the underside. Cloudy, matte leaves or gently pitted leaves are symptoms of either spider mites or thrips, so a flamethrower and/or insecticide is necessary to combat them.

Mushy Stems: Rubber trees, especially ficus tineke, don’t like irregular watering. Too much water and you’ll get root rot, which is gross. A mushy stem or funky smell can indicate root rot. If you suspect any, rent a hazmat suit and inspect roots asap, trimming away any dead roots.

Yellow Dropping Leaves: Too much water. Ease up on the water.

Slow Growth: Is typical. These guys do grow a lot slower than green/burgundy rubber trees, even under superb conditions. Pests can also hinder growth, so it never hurts to get out your magnifying glass or monocle and do a bug check.

Changes in Variegation: The beauty of variegated leaves is that the are all different. You may get a leaf with very little white and you may get a completely white leaf (below). The important thing to remember is that leaves stay healthy, no matter what they look like. Variegated rubber plant leaves should always emerge ruby colored and not deformed. For more contrasting variegation, set your plant in a place with a cooler temperature.

White variegated leaves on rubber plant

Buy A Variegated Rubber Plant

Variegated rubber plants can be difficult to find; apparently they are very popular in Sweden, but if you’re not in Sweden then there’s always the interwebs. If you can hunt one down locally, even better!

Once you do get your hands on one, they’re easy to propagate. Follow my guide on how I propagated a mini Rudy here.

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