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Latex is the milky sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. Our natural rubber is produced in Malaysia, where trees are tapped for latex by cutting a spiral groove in the bark and placing a spout and collection cup at the base.
One week of daily harvesting from 30 rubber trees produces enough latex for just one pillow!
Latex industry started in Malaysia when 9 plants were brought in from Brazil.
Malaysian Rubber Board is backed by years of R&D (established in 1925).
One of the areas of research is in the production of new clones for rubber trees. Clones are grown for 15 years in different areas before they are used for buds.
Latex production has been declining in Malaysia recently and is now 1.3 million hectares. Now 80% small farmers with average of 2.5 hectares each farm.
Rubber trees have a life span of 25-30 years.
After 25 years of latex extraction the trunk of the tree is used for furniture production and the branches are used for fibre board.The tree trunk provides a medium density wood which is kiln dried.
The rubber tree is deciduous loosing all its leaves in January during a hot dry spell. With the new leaves come the flowers then the fruit. The green fruit slowly turns brown and on a hot afternoon between July and Sept you can hear the cracking sound as the seed explodes from the fruit. This time is known as "Seed Fall".
Because seeds rapidly loose their viability if exposed to sun and rain the seeds are collected and put into a cold store or into a germination bed.
Seed germination takes 7-10 daysMoved to poly bagGreen bud graft at 600mm. The seed provides the root stock and the graft provides the tree.Green buds for grafting come from bush nursery).
When seedling is 3 months old using the standard grafting technique a small patch is removed from the seedling and a green bud is grafted on and bandaged.
The graft is left for 1 month if the graft is successful the patch is green. The polythene bandage is removed and the tree is cut back. The seedling remains in the nursery for 2 stages of leaf and then planted out (about 6 months). Planting rate 400 trees per hectare.
Starts when the tree is 4-5 years (when it is 45cm / 17" in circumference).Tapping panel is a half spiral, starting about 150cm / 60" from the ground (about the height of the tapper). Each incision is 1-2mm
Change sides of tree every 5 years. 25 year cycle is:
Tapping is done early in the morning as long as it's not raining or the trees are not wet. (Maybe 100 out of 365 days a year).A tapper taps 500 trees in about 3-3 ½ hours has a break and then collects the latex after 4-5 hours after tapping.After 4-5 hours the latex vessels become blocked and the latex coagulates leaving a white strip of latex on the tree. This is known as "Tree lace"
Latex vessels run down from right to left and tapping is down from left to right to maximise production which is usually about ½ cup of latex which is 30-35% rubber and the rest is water. Trees produce their best yields in the first 5 years.