Like many houseplants, it is relatively simple to propagate Rubber Tree plants (Ficus elastica) to create more of your favorite specimens. However, certain ways are more successful than others. In particular, there seems to be some confusion about whether or not you can propagate a Rubber Tree using just a leaf cutting.
Can you propagate a Rubber Tree from a leaf? Generally, no. It is possible to get your Rubber Tree leaf to root, which can keep it alive for many months, but it most likely won’t ever produce a new growth tip to form a proper plant. To grow a Rubber Tree from a cutting, it is best to use a section of stem that contains a few leaves and nodes.
While it’s true that some houseplants species can be propagated using leaf cuttings, Rubber Trees do not fall into that category. There are much more effective ways to propagate your Rubber Tree from cuttings. In this article, I want to give you an overview of what is needed to successfully produce new plants from cuttings.
Can You Grow a New Rubber Tree from a Leaf?
Before we move on to a more successful propagation method, I just want to further explain why people think it’s possible to use leaf cuttings to create new Rubber Trees.
If you search the internet for stories of propagating Rubber Trees from a single leaf, you do actually find quite a bit of content. Lots of people have tried it, and lo-and-behold, their leaf actually produced roots!
Unfortunately, because of how a Rubber Tree grows, these rooted leaves are missing the crucial tissue needed for new growth and will never have the capability to form new stems or buds. They are essentially known as “blind cuttings,” or cuttings that will never produce a fully functional plant.
However, because the leaves root out and can actually sustain the health of the leaf for many months (or in some cases, many years!), it can offer false hope to the plant owner, thinking if they wait long enough, they’ll get another Rubber Tree out of the deal.
In my research, I have come across a few folks describing dubious success in propagating some Ficus varieties from leaf cuttings. Apparently, undifferentiated tissue located in the callous (or cut) of the leaf develops into the roots that grow from the leaf. In some cases, this same tissue can potentially develop into an “advantageous bud,” which might, maybe, eventually grow into a stem.
These “success” stories are few and far between and come from unconfirmed sources, so I still consider leaf-propagation for Rubber Trees a general failure. Plus, there are many more successful ways to do this without waiting years for a “maybe” stem to appear.
What is Actually Needed for Rubber Tree Propagation?
The secret to a strong Rubber Tree cutting is to make sure it has some stem on it. More specifically, if you want to be successful in getting roots AND a new growing tip, you’ll need a piece of the stem with at least one leaf and one node (more on this in a bit).
Regardless of whether you are propagating your cuttings in water or soil, the stem is essential because it will develop new roots at the bottom of the cutting, providing access to water, nutrients, and oxygen. The nodes on the stem will then begin to develop into new branches, each with its own growth tip, ensuring your cutting isn’t “blind.”
The leaf is essential in carrying out the important task of photosynthesis, providing much needed resources to keep the stem alive long enough to develop the roots and shoots.
What is a Node?
In general, nodes on plants are points on a stem where buds, leaves, or aerial roots originate. They are very important when it comes to branching and even more so when considering pruning or propagation.
In Rubber Trees, the nodes are located just above where a leaf petiole meets the stem. Typically, these nodes are dormant until the plant’s main growing tip is disturbed, cut, or broken.
Rubber Trees have apical meristems, which are bundles of growth tissue located at the tips of the stems. These meristems are where any new growth occurs, and branching is rare as long as the apical meristem is left intact. This is why, when left to their own devices, many Rubber Trees consist of one tall, single stem.
When you cut off the growth tip of a Rubber Tree, the nodes just below the cut are activated to start producing new branches, each with its own apical meristem. This is why pruning is an essential practice if you want to encourage your plant to branch out and become bushier. (More on that here.)
Regarding propagation, a node is essential in creating a new growth tip that the new plant will eventually emerge from, so making sure your cuttings have at least one node is the key to successful propagation.
How to Take Cuttings for Rubber Tree Propagation?
There are a few different ways to propagate Rubber Tree plants that merit different techniques, but generally, any cutting you take from your plant should have some stem, at least one leaf, and at least one node.
Any time you do any pruning to your plant (whether it is getting too tall or you are encouraging branching) is a great time to propagate from cuttings. Generally, I like to get my cuttings from newer branches that are still pliable and softer rather than use older, thicker stems.
If you remove an entire branch from your Rubber Tree, you can cut it into many pieces to use for propagation.
First, you can remove the growth tip from the branch, which already has an active apical meristem. Cut the tip of the branch so you have a piece about 6″ long and with at least a few leaves on it. You can place this portion in water or plant it in some growing medium to root out.
Depending on how long your original branch was, you probably still have a length long enough to create at least a few more cuttings to propagate. Again, for each cutting, you want to have at least one leaf and one node.
Examine the branch to locate where each node is located along the stem. Rubber Tree nodes can usually be found easily right about where the leaf meets the stem and might look like a little dot, sometimes with a slight ring around them.
Once you know where the nodes are, you can begin making your cuts in between them, along the “internodes.” For each cutting, you want to save about one inch of stem above the node and at least the same, if not more, below the node. This ensures that you don’t disrupt or damage the node by cutting the stem too close and that you have plenty of woody material below for roots to form from.
I should mention that taking cuttings from Rubber Trees can be a messy business because of their latex-heavy sap that pours out of the cuts. Don’t worry…just wipe the sap away. It will eventually stop leaking. However, it can cause skin irritation, so be careful during cleanup.
Now that you have your cuttings, you can either propagate them in water, submerging the entire stem portion, or dip them in growth hormone and stick them in moist propagation soil to root out.
Either way, it will take several weeks to a couple of months for the cuttings to fully root out, and potentially longer before you witness any new growth emerging from the nodes. Be patient…as long as the leaf is still in good health, good things are happening.
Hopefully, this article has shed some light on what is necessary for a Rubber Tree cutting to be successful in creating a new plant.
While it is always exciting to see root development on anything we are trying to propagate, it is important to understand that, in the case of Rubber Trees, leaf cuttings won’t ever produce a viable plant even if they’re rooted out, so it’s best to focus your energy on stem cuttings.
Taking proper cuttings that include a good portion of stem, at least one leaf, and one node is ultimately the most efficient way to propagate new Rubber Tree plants.