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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Rubber Plant

Rubber Plant

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, August 18, 2015/Categories: sustainability, environment, plants

                  Guayule Rubber Products  (credit: Wiki-commons)

The history of developing new crops is a long and tedious affair. Just consider the path of the guayule plant, (  Parthenium argentatum  ), an alternative source of natural rubber.
               
                          Native Guayule ( Parthenium argentatum ), Texas  (credit: Wiki-commons)

Guayule is a shrub native to the deserts of the southwestern US and Mexico. It produces a natural latex that can be extracted and purified to make high-quality gloves, medical devices, and other natural rubber products.
The industrial properties of guayule have been known for well over a century. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and others thought the hardy plant would be useful in making tires for early vehicles. In the 1920s, research was initiated to domesticating guayule for rubber and a California company produced 1400 tons. Guayule was replaced during World War II by latex from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). After the war, large-scale guayule farming collapsed due to this cheaper tree-produced latex before any genetics or plant breeding had been applied to the drought tolerant shrub.  


Times are changing, and interest in guayule has come again. Currently, two companies are producing guayule  rubber and the Yulex Corporation has developed a partnership with Patagonia, the outdoor company, to produce a wetsuit made from a blend of natural rubber and neoprene (60% guayule, 40% neoprene), reducing dependence on synthetic neoprene. Additionally, companies including Bridgestone Tires are experimenting with guayule to develop a new generation of rubber tires:



The commercial development of a new crop takes many steps to realize its potential. In the case of guayule, more than a century has been necessary from the original botanical discovery to limited commercial use. There are millions of other plants waiting for their own unique qualities to be realized and fewer and fewer people willing to spend a life time as plant researchers or commercial 'champions'. Too bad!

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