Natural rubber is a crop that has been harvested for hundreds of years. Historically, the Mayans had a variety of uses for it, including their traditional game of ball. By the eighteenth century, it was a key industry for countries like Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. During this time, the harvesting would be done directly at the forest, where the trees grew naturally. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Henry Wickham, a British citizen, illegally exported 70,000 seedlings from Peru, and took them to Southeast Asia, where the first commercial natural rubber plantations where established. By the beginning of the 1900´s the production of these plantations had surpassed by a great margin what came out of South American forests.
The rubber tree, specifically the Hevea brasiliensis, which is the species on which the commercial production of rubber is based, is a tree native to the Amazon basin. It belongs to the tree family of the Euphorbiaceae, has a cylindrical straight trunk and can grow between 15 and 20 meters tall. It grows well on different types of soil, although it prefers acidity, it can be planted in topography with up to 20% inclination. The main requirements for a plantation is to be less than 1200 meters above sea level, and have to an annual rainfall greater than 1500 mm. Latex production is the main objective of these plantations. The tree can be bled beginning in its 6th year after planting and its production cycle lasts approximately 35 years.
Natural rubber plantations offer significant benefits for climate change mitigation, since they offer high levels of carbon sequestration when compared with other major plantation crops. In Costa Rica, these plantations are subject to Payments for Environmental Services (PEAs) and because their end product is not timber, they are an excellent option for reforestation of Hydric Protection Zones (HPZ) and the protection of creeks and rivers.
At the end of its productive cycle, 40-45 years after being planted, the wood from rubber trees can be used in a variety of ways. It is considered a hardwood, similar to teak, and can be used in furniture and floors. A hectare could produce more than 250 m3 of timber, even 15 years after being planted.