Portulacaria Afra: Elephant Bush Plant Care

What is an Elephant Bush Plant (Portulacaria afra)?

Portulacaria afra is a succulent plant that grows as a small bush.

Portulacaria afra belongs to the Didiereaceae family. If you are addicted to beautiful plants, the elephant bush succulent comes in a complete package.

Portulacaria afra has large succulent leaves, and the small pink flowers clustered around its branches are enough to make excellent home decor.

It can be grown indoors with other potted plants, or planted in a succulent outdoor garden or hanging basket with other succulent plants.

It is also drought-tolerant and is considered a perennial succulent shrub.

However, the best place to grow this succulent plant is to put it in a pot indoors and let it get a lot of bright light.

What-Is-Elephant-Bush-Portulacaria-Afra

Many people confuse Portulacaria afra with Crassula ovata (Jade plant).

That’s not the only thing that makes this plant different from jade plants. It has glossy green leaves and slightly smaller segmented stems.

Native to South Africa, they are best grown in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11.

In its native habitat, Portulacaria afra grows as tall as 6–20 feet; in contrast, as houseplants, it grows slowly and smaller.

Portulacaria afra has multiple varieties including:

  1. Variegata
  2. Minima
    • Aurea (sub-variety of Minima with yellow leaves)
    • Medio-Picta (sub-variety of Minima with pink-and-green variegation)
  3. Lamp Post
  4. Foliis Variegatis
  5. Cork Bark
  6. Mammoth
  7. Macrophylla 
  8. Skyscraper

Where Does the Name Elephant Bush Come From?

The Portulacaria afra plant has several names, including Rainbow Bush, Variegated Elephant Bush, Miniature Jade, and Dwarf Jade, due to its similarities in look.

The name “Elephant Bush Plant” originated because the succulent plant is a source of food for elephants. Elephants eat the succulent fleshy leaves, which they find delicious.


Before we go on to care tips, if you are looking for other types of succulents, check out our other post on various succulent varieties.


How to Care for Elephant Bush Plant

Portulacaria afra, also known as the Elephant Bush plant, is a succulent plant that can be grown indoors or outdoors.

When growing this plant, it is important to provide light and water whenever the soil feels dry.

Fertilize the plant annually with a balanced fertilizer in early spring. Repot the Portulacaria afra every two years when it reaches its desired size.

Temperature 

Portulacaria afra plants prefer moderate temperatures ranging from temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 27 degrees Celsius) are ideal during the day, while at night temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 13 degrees Celsius) are ideal.

While moderate to high temperatures are not an issue for the Portulacaria afra plant, if left in a heated environment for an extended time, it may start to wilt.

Lighting 

Light-For-Elephant-Bush-Portulacaria-Afra

Portulacaria afra (elephant bush plant) requires a lot of sunshine.

During the growing season, which is from spring through summer, place it in direct sunlight.

If you’re concerned about the leaves being scorched by direct sunlight, don’t be; the Portulacaria afra plant can withstand the heat because it naturally grows in a sunny environment.

But remember, too much sun is not healthy. You might want to shield or shade it and give it some ‘rest’ from direct sunlight if you want to leave it outdoors for a lengthy time.

It’s not challenging to provide indirect sunlight for the Portulacaria afra elephant bush. Just put it near a window that faces the sun.

Portulacaria afra is a plant that thrives in the summer but might go dormant in the winter, necessitating more light to keep it alive and healthy.

You can use a grow lamp if you notice your plant losing its coloration due to not getting enough sunlight to support its growth.

Watering 

The Portulacaria afra plant does not need to be watered often, but it does when the soil dries out.

The best advice is to test the soil’s dryness before watering to determine whether the plant needs water.

Water elephant bush plants more frequently during the growing season than during the wintertime.

In the winter, give this plant just a few infrequent veils of mist with the smallest amount of water possible.

One of the most common errors individuals make when it comes to growing Portulacaria afra elephant bush is overwatering.

They overwater this plant and don’t allow it enough time to dry up before watering it again.

You’ll end up with a scenario where your soil is saturated, and the roots start to rot.

Soil

Portulacaria afra thrives in soil that is both well-drained and aerated.

A succulent mix, sandy permeable soil, or horticulture soil is ideal for this plant.

Soil-For-Elephant-Bush-Portulacaria-Afra

If you want your soil to drain well or need more aeration, you should add soil amendments such as perlite or pumice for better drainage, or vermiculite that would help soil aeration while retaining water and nutrients.

The one succulent soil that we can always rely on is this succulent soil. We like it because our succulents seem to thrive in it.

Organic Potting Soil, Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix, Professional Grower Mix Soil, Fast...
  • Imported from Canada, contains 100% organic ingredients, light-weight soil,...
  • The soil contains 75% natural substrate and 25% perlite, Our formula can...
  • The soil feature has good perviousness. rhizome breathability, well...

Fertilizer 

Add a little fertilizer to Portulacaria afra plants if you notice your plant is not growing well.

Apply fertilizer throughout the summer, starting at the end of winter. Once the plant has been watered; to avoid overfertilizing, use just half of the amount recommended.

Remember, there is no need to feed Portulacaria afra elephant bush plants throughout the winter months.

Soluble fertilizer is a good choice for this plant. The reason is that they are easy to add and supply the fertilizer evenly.

We also like to use slow-release fertilizers, like this one. Adding one application lasts for months! It slowly dissolves into the soil on its own, so there’s no worry about over-fertilizing.

Succulents & Cactus Plant Food - Gentle Long Lasting Formula, Slow Release Fertilizer...
  • LIGHT APPLICATIONS - A balanced mix of essential nutrients with low NPK...
  • LASTS LONGER, FOR LESS - Easy, ready to use granular formula feeds your...
  • LIQUID ALTERNATIVE - Excellent alternative to liquid fertilizer in a spray...

Propagation 

Propagating-Elephant-Bush-Portulacaria-Afra

Portulacaria afra plants are best propagated by leaf and stem cuttings.

Stem cuttings, however, are easier to grow than leaf cuttings.

First, cut the stem with a sharp knife and plant it in an area with plenty of moisture.

Within the next four to six weeks, the plant’s roots will have formed.

Once you see roots, you can repot the new plants into a separate container.

pests and diseases 

Portulacaria afra elephant bush plants can be infected by pests such as spider mites, mealy bugs, scale insects, and whiteflies.

OOne possible reason why pests infest elephant bush plants is excessive watering of your plants.

The moist conditions are a good environment for pests to thrive in.

If you notice pests on your plants, move the plants away from any other plants.

Rubbing alcohol can be used to remove spider mites, mealybugs, and white spots.

If that fails, try using pesticide sprays or Neem oil spray to get rid of pests and prevent them from coming back.

If you are looking for a Neem oil spray, we suggest using this particular Neem oil spray. We’ve used it on our pest infestations and it simply works.

BioAdvanced 800400D Neem Oil, 24-Ounce, Ready-to-Use
  • INSECT KILLER: Controls Aphids, Whiteflies, Spider Mites, Fruit Flies,...
  • DISEASE CONTROL: Fungicide controls Blackspot, Rust, Powdery Mildew, and...
  • USE ON: For use on Roses, Flowers, Fruits and Vegetables and Shrubs

FAQ

How often should you water an elephant bush?

Portulacaria afra elephant bush needs to be watered frequently, but only when the soil is dry to the touch. When there isn’t enough water, the leaves dry up and fall off. Water elephant bushes more often throughout the summer and less frequently during the winter. Allow the soil to dry out for at least four to five days between waterings.

How fast do elephant bushes grow?

Portulacaria afra, or elephant bush, is a slow-growing plant that grows up to 20 feet tall in its native habitat. When propagating, take special care to keep the plant out of direct sunlight for the first 4-6 weeks after it has been planted and to keep the soil wet when it begins to dry out after that. It should take around four to six weeks for them to establish themselves and produce new growth properly.

Is elephant bush a jade plant?

No, it is not. The Portulacaria afra elephant bush is often mistaken for the jade plant (Crassula ovata). However, it is not a jade plant at all. However, given that it looks like a jade plant, people call it a dwarf jade plant.

Is elephant bush Edible?

Yes, elephant bush plants are edible. Due to their sour flavor, the green leaves are also an integral part of Southern African cuisine. This plant’s crisp, spherical leaves are delicious in salads because of the high content of malic acid they contain. In addition, wild elephants really do eat elephant bush plants; portulacaria afra plants are actually an elephant’s favorite food.

Other Portulacaria afra Plants

Although Elephant bush plants are by far the most famous portularcaria afra plant, there are others that you may want to consider.

Conclusion

Portulaca afra is a unique plant that can serve succulent plant lovers with many benefits.

You do not need to stress about repotting this plant every few months, as a well-drained potting mix can carry this plant for two years.

References

Show More
  • Mahr, S. Elephant Bush, Portulacaria afra. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin Horticulture, Division of Extension. URL: https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/elephant-bush-portulacaria-afra/
  • University of North Florida. (n.d.). Portulacaria afra – Elephant bush. Plants of the UNF Campus, University of North Florida. URL: https://www.unf.edu/physicalfacilities/landscape/plants/Portulacaria_afra_-_Elephant_bush.aspx
  • Martin, C. (n.d.). Elephant Plant – Portulacaria afra. Virtual Library of Phoenix Landscape Plants, Arizona State University. URL: https://www.public.asu.edu/~camartin/plants/Plant%20html%20files/portulacariaafra.html
  • About/mentions: Portulacaria afra, succulent

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