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The inexpensive wood from plantation rubber trees, felled when they no longer yield adequate latex, is finding a market in high-value end products traditionally associated with more valuable hardwoods such as teak.

The wood from rubber tree stems (Hevea brasiliensis Muell. Arg.) has become the raw material for a wide variety of end products of varying quality, substituting timber from the natural forests.

Rubberwood becomes available from agricultural plantations when replanting is carried out after 25 to 30 years because of declining latex yield.

Although rubberwood (sometimes called hevea wood) is a relatively inexpensive and mass-produced timber, it is now being used and marketed in many applications in which higher-value, less available hardwoods such as teak (Tectona grandis) have traditionally been used. These include furniture, flooring, wood panels and indoor building components. It is not durable enough, however, for use in some situations requiring the durability of teak, such as boat building, bulwarks, construction and transmission line poles.

The availability of rubberwood in large quantities is partly a result of the trees' undemanding site requirements, but mainly of the fact that rubberwood is only a by-product of a crop grown for latex production. An additional, vital factor for the availability of rubberwood is, at least in Malaysia, strong governmental support and incentives to ensure the continuing supply of latex through replanting of rubber plantations.

Most of the technical problems in processing and utilization of rubberwood have been overcome by the Southeast Asian countries over the past 20 years and the timber has been successfully marketed internationally. Rubberwood has thus become a Southeast Asian success story. It is even more important than teak as a plantation timber in Southeast Asia.

This article presents general information on rubberwood, its properties, processing, markets and products.

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