Rubberwood is taken from Hevea brasiliensis, also called the rubber tree or Para rubber tree. These trees are cultivated for their natural latex sap, but they also yield a high quality wood with a tight grain that can be used in a wide range of applications. Despite the name, rubberwood does not bounce or stretch; the name is a reference to the parent tree. In addition to being beautiful, this wood is also an ecologically sustainable timber, making it popular with people who are concerned about the health of the world's forests.
Rubber trees are in the Euphorbiaceae family, and they produce a commercially valuable sap. People have been tapping rubber trees for their latex for centuries, and although synthetic alternatives have been developed, there is still a lively market for natural latex. After around 30 years, however, a rubber tree will start to produce much less latex, making it no longer commercially sustainable. These older trees are cut down so that new ones can be planted.
The wood of felled rubber trees has traditionally been used for fuel and to make furniture in the regions where these trees are cultivated, but latex farmers realized that the wood could have commercial value as well, and they started to export it. Since the trees are not felled specifically for timber use, many people consider rubberwood to be ecologically sound, simply using up a waste product of the latex production industry. It is also a great building material, since it is durable and very strong, and it takes a range of finishes.
Many companies that focus on high quality and unusual furniture use rubberwood in their products. It may also be labeled as parawood, to disassociate it from images of rubber. Consumers can recognize the wood by its density and tight grain, and furniture made of it is very solid, with a smooth, even look that some people find quite enjoyable. The wood is sometimes compared to teak, another close grained tropical wood, and some people prefer rubber to teak, since teak is not always a sustainable choice.
Unfinished rubberwood is uncommon outside South America. With some effort, boards can be ordered for custom projects or flooring, but the bulk of the wood that comes from South America is exported in the form of finished products like furniture, toys, and manufactured flooring. These products may be stained or dyed to enhance the natural beauty of the material, and the wood takes a wide range of finishes, so it can be found in an assortment of colors.