Rubber trees grow in equatorial rainforests, wetlands and disturbed areas where it is hot and the humidity is high. They grow in the Amazon rainforests of South American countries, such as Brazil, Columbia and Peru. They can also be found in Africa, Central America and Asia.
In Africa, rubber trees are primarily found in the forests of Liberia, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Congo. More than 90 percent of the world's natural rubber comes from Southeast Asia. Rubber trees grow quickly, and are tapped for their latex when they mature, usually at around 5 or 6 years old. Just as in tapping for maple syrup, tapping for latex involves creating a cut in the trunk of the rubber tree and inserting a tapper. The trees are given a resting period to allow the wounds to heal.
Rubber tree plantations are an important source of income for indigenous communities. The National Council of Rubber Tappers in Brazil is an organization that was formed to help protect rubber tree forests from clearcutting.
The rubber tree plays a significant role in human activities. First used by the South American and Central American Indians, rubber is used for waterproofing clothing and making shoes. Surgical gloves, rubber balls and tires are also made of rubber.