Search for rubber in pre-Hevea brasiliensis days and establishment of H. brasiliensis in India

Raman, Anantanarayanan ; Chaendaekattu, Narayanan

Abstract

Natural rubber, obtained from the spurge Hevea brasiliensis, is a material of high relevance in modern industrialized society. Its uses are manifold. In spite of a stiff competition from synthetic rubber and plastic, natural rubber is still in demand and large plantations of it are presently exploited for an uninterrupted supply. H. brasiliensis was introduced into India from Brazil, through a circuitous route, thanks to Dietrich Brandis (then Inspector General of Forests, Government of India), who directed operations in the 1870s. The present article explores the historical landmark events that occurred before Brandis’s decision on its introduction into India and after, supplemented by relevant notations. The fascinating subplot in the story of H. brasiliensis introduction into India is the search for plant sources of ‘rubber’ within the subcontinent and how a non-edible fig species Ficus elastica was looked at, quite rigorously, as an invaluable material in this context. Early efforts made by the Rubber Research Institute of India, Kottayam in independent India include the development of a productive clone RRII 105, which has revolutionized rubber production in Indian in the recent decades.

Keyword(s)

Central Travancore, Dietrich Brandis, Economic relevance, Ficus elastica, Hugh Cleghorn, John Royle, Joseph Hooker, Malabar, William Roxburgh, William Griffith

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