The History of Rubber in Ceylon

During the period of transition from coffee to tea, experiments in a new product, rubber, were being carried out. These experiments proved that various types of rubber yielding trees would flourish in Sri Lanka. However, the industry can be said to have had its birth in 1876 when 1,919 plants of Hevea Braziliensis – the native rubber tree of the Amazon Valley – were received in good condition at the Heneratgoda Botanical Gardens from Kew. It is from these mother trees that the gigantic rubber plantation industry in the Eastern hemisphere sprang.

Of the trees planted at the Heneratgoda Botanical Gardens in 1876, the first one flowered in 1881, on which the first experiments in tapping were commenced.

The rubber plantation was thinned out in 1882 and from the 260 seedlings raised the following year and distributed in Sri Lanka, the first spread of commercial rubber planting began. The trees at Heneratgoda were thinned out periodically and by 1887 there were 457 good trees standing which provided the seed for further plantings. In 1890 the Forest Department opened a plantation at Edangoda and by 1893 some 90,000 seeds were distributed for planting and similar numbers were sold in succeeding years.

Following the first commercial planting in 1883, further areas were planted at a moderate pace until, by 1904, 25,000 acres were under cultivation. Thirty four tons of rubber were exported that year. Thereafter, rubber planting increased very rapidly. By 1906, 100,000 acres had been planted and by 1928 had been increased to 534,000 acres.

Rubber growing regions