Portulacaria afra also known as Elephant Bush is easy to propagate and care for. Pronounced por-tew-luh-KAR-ee-uh AF-ruh is a bushy succulent shrub belonging to the Didiereaceae family.
It is also known as Elephant Bush, Dwarf Jade, Mini Jade, Elephant food, Chinese Jade Plant, Pork Bush, Rainbow Bush, Rainbow Elephant Bush, Spekboom (Afrikaans for bacon tree), miniature jade or small leaf jade (but not related to Crassula ovata or Jade Plant).
Portulacaria Afra is native to South Africa and it is also used to feed elephants in their natural habitat, hence the name Elephant Bush. It forms up to 80% of the diet of elephants eating up to 400 pounds of leaves per day. Elephant Bush can grow up to 20 feet tall in the wild. Foliage of Portulacaria Afra is also used as food in some native cultures.
The foliage is used in salads or soups to add a sour flavor and was traditionally used medicinally for a variety of minor ailments.
Portulacaria Afra is known to absorb carbon in the air which is why it has a reputation for being a carbon-sponge plant. It removes more carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis than most other plants. It is one of the most successful carbon sinks in the world. The amazing Elephant Bush can remove up to one hundred times more carbon from our atmosphere than a single pine tree of similar size.
This succulent is a popular houseplant due to its sparse requirements for care, the ability to persist in harsh conditions, as well as its simple but beautiful colors.
This decorative and structural succulent has reddish brown stems with glossy green leaves and the stem gets thicker over time as the plant matures.
These plants are very easy to grow and are super easy to propagate. Elephant Bush starts out as a small bush and eventually grow tall and tree-like. They grow upright horizontally but can also spread out laterally and sprawl or hang. This makes them a great choice for hanging baskets, groundcover or arrangements. Portulacaria afra are also grown as a bonsai or a hedge and can be controlled with proper trimming and shaping.
They do best in USDA zones 9-11 and can be grown in full sun to light shade. Elephant Bush can handle mild frost and cold temperatures to 25° degrees Fahrenheit, but only for a short period of time. Be sure to protect from freezing the first two or three years.
If you live in a climate with freezing winter temperatures, it is best to grow Portulacaria Afra in a container so you can move the plant indoors during the cooler months.
It can withstand long droughts and heat waves, but does not flower during cultivations.
Portulacaria Afra Flower
Plants produce tiny, pink or white flowers in late spring/early summer in its native habitat. It can also flower in places like Southern California where they can grow year round in the ground and after a dry winter where plants are not irrigated. Flowers are rare in cultivation.
The star-shaped flowers are produced in clusters at the ends of branches and have 5 pointed petals and prominent stamens. Pollinated flowers are followed by tiny light pink, berry-like dry fruits, each with only a single seed.
Portulacaria Variegata is the variegated version which is also known as the rainbow bush. This succulent shrub that has creamy pale yellow leaves with a light green center stripe.
It has a tinge of magenta on the edges of the leaves which persists all year round.
The Portulacaria Variegata is a slow growing, low sprawling evergreen succulent.
Leaf color varies with new growth and color shades are determined by the time of the year, water and fertilizer.
Water the Elephant Bush weekly in the hottest months of the year and monthly at most in winter. Soak the soil, then allow it to dry completely before watering again. Do not water before or during the weeks it is scheduled to bloom or it will fail to flower.
Like most succulents, the Portulacaria Afra prefers a well draining soil. Fertilizing or enriched soil can prevent this plant from flowering.
Elephant Bush Propagation
The Elephant Bush propagates easily from stem cuttings. It can be grown from seed, but it is best grown from cuttings. The cuttings can be dipped in a rooting hormone for faster roots and can also be propagated in water in addition to soil.
Stem cuttings will be rooted in about 4 to 6 weeks in soil, in warm temperatures.
It is best to take cuttings in spring or summer, and always allow the ends to callus over for 3-5 days before putting them in soil or water.
Keep new Elephant Bush cuttings out of direct sunlight, but allow them to receive adequate indirect sunlight.
Propagating your succulents is an easy way to grow your collection. Be warned….it is completely addicting!!
Watch the Elephant Bush Propagation video below or keep reading.
Elephant Bush Problems
The Elephant Bush is susceptible to disgusting mealy bugs that appear as small, cottony spots on the leaves. You can get rid of these pests by wiping the leaves and stem down with a q-tip dipped in alcohol or spray with an organic insect killing soap. You can read my complete post on mealybugs here.
Other problems with Elephant Bush include leaf dropping and leaf yellowing. Most leaf yellowing issues are typically caused by either over or under watering.
In addition to feeding elephants the Portulacaria Afra is also widely browsed by wild and domestic animals and it is a favorite food of tortoises. Goats and other animals, eat the plant from the ground up causing overgrazing and a decline in Portulacaria Afra’s population.
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