It has just been announced that the small Brazilian state of Espirito Santo, part of the Mata Atlantica region, is the 4th largest rubber producing state in Brazil, with 14,000 hectares of “seringueiras”, or rubber trees. Most of the rubber latex produced is bought up by two cooperatives and sent to Michelin, who process it and turn it into tyres. There is a state plan to expand to 75,000 hectares by 2025.
What does this mean for the countryside? Well the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, is native, sort of. Actually it comes from the Amazon rain forest, but grows well further south, as long as it is below 800m and with less than 1,000 mm of rain per year. It is very vulnerable to frost so needs north facing slopes (this is the southern hemisphere remember) and tends to be susceptible to fungi, though there are resistant varieties.
It is a tall tree, up to 144ft if given it's head, but normally kept to 80ft to encourage latex production. This means that it doesn't start producing rubber until about 5-6 years old – only 8,000 hectares of the 14,000 in Espirito santo are actually producing. Because of this young plantations are usually combined with cash crops such as pineapple or papaya, or animals such as goats. Even perennial crops such as coffee or pepper.
When the tree has reached the end of it's useful life you can of course use the wood. But, frankly, it's main advantage is that it is very cheap. It warps easily, and is very liable to rot, so cannot be used out doors. If you see something made from “parawood” or “Malaysian oak”, beware!