Types of Portulacaria Afra: 11 Varieties of Elephant Bush Plants

The Portulacaria genus is indigenous to South Africa, with the most well-known species being Portulacaria afra.

Portulacaria afra is commonly known as “spekboom,” “elephant bush,” and “elephant plant.”

It’s called the elephant plant because, in the wild, elephants eat so many Portulacaria afra plants that it sometimes makes up to 80% of their diet.

Unlike the other succulent plants, Portulacaria can grow well in a wide variety of climate conditions, including high rainfall and humidity, as well as in the desert sun. This plant even comes back from frost injury.

Introduction-Portulacaria-Afra-Plant

These plants are a great choice for growing in hanging baskets. In this article, we will mention some of the most popular Portulacaria Afra plants for the indoor environment.

The most amazing fact about Portulacaria afra plants is their carbon-absorbing and storing capacity. These succulents can absorb more atmospheric carbon than other succulent plants.

Many people often mistakenly think that Portulacaria afra plants are jade plants (crassula) because they look so similar.

One way to tell the difference is by their stems. The stems of Portulacaria plants are red, wiry, and tough, whereas jade plants are green and softer.

You will definitely need sharp garden shears if you want to cut some stem cuttings.

As for propagating Portulacaria afra, a simple broken or fallen branch will root readily.

So, if you want to make more plants, you can easily propagate these Portulacaria afra stem cuttings.

Popular Types of Portulacaria Afra Succulent Plants

Succulent plants like Portulacaria afra are found readily in Africa. They come in a variety of shapes and colors, making them perfect for anyone who wants a beautiful addition to their garden.

These plants are relatively easy to care for and can survive in a variety of climates; they require little water once they get established.

Portulacaria Afra Aurea

Portulacaria-Afra-Aurea

Portulacaria afra aurea is also known as the yellow rainbow bush. This is a slow-growing succulent that can reach up to 2 feet tall.

The succulent leaves have a beautiful yellow or light green color. During the spring season, this plant comes up with beautiful pink to lavender flowers, but they are very rare.

These sprawling succulents are mainly grown as ground cover. Hence, they can provide excellent protection against soil erosion.

These Portulacaria Afra plants need partial shade or full sun. If you grow them indoors, then try keeping them near the south or southeast-facing window.

They can tolerate a little frost, but heavy frost can be harmful. Build a strict watering schedule based on the temperature and soil type.

The best idea is to allow the topsoil to dry between waterings. Fertilize them during the growing season. You can propagate these succulents by leaf or stem cuttings.

Portulacaria Afra Bonsai

Portulacaria-Afra-Bonsai

The Portulacaria Afra bonsai plant is a beautiful succulent that is native to South Africa. This bonsai, Portulacaria Afra, can grow up to 10 feet if not maintained. It grows mainly in the rocky mountains.

This bonsai plant can adapt to any environmental condition, except extreme cold climates.

The pale blue-green leaves are fleshy and simply attached to reddish stems. To enjoy the small flowers, you have to allow the plant to go dry.

These bonsai plants prefer to grow under the full sun. If you grow them indoors, then keep them near a south-facing window, where they will receive bright light.

Although they can adapt well to warm temperatures and low or high humidity, you should keep them away from the cold.

Water them when it is necessary because frequent watering will cause leaf fall and other diseases.

Also, you have to make sure that the potting soil is well-draining and that the pots have drainage holes. For propagation, you may opt for stem cuttings.

Portulacaria Afra Cork Bark

Portulacaria-Afra-Cork-Bark

Portulacaria afra cork bark is another wonderful variety that is nearly similar to the bonsai.

It is also known as the dwarf jade plant because of its robust and thick trunk and branches.

This succulent little tree can reach up to 16 inches tall, even in a 5-6 inch container. The leaves have a dark to light green color.

This bonsai plant should be placed near a south-facing window to make sure it receives plenty of sunlight.

During the summer months, temperatures will not cause any problems, but during the winter, when the temperature falls below 23 degrees Fahrenheit, you will need to move them to a warmer location.

The potting soil should be well-draining because this plant cannot withstand stagnant water conditions.

Portulacaria Afra Decumbent

Portulacaria-Afra-Decumbent

The Portulacaria afra decumbent is widely distributed across the eastern cape of South Africa.

This succulent has small, apple-like green leaves that are attached to reddish stems. It can reach a height of approximately 10–12 feet in its native habitat.

During the summer months, you will notice small flowers. It is alternatively known as the miniature jade plant.

This succulent has a trailing habit which makes it ideal for growing in hanging baskets.

Like the other succulent plants in the Portulacaria genus, the decumbent species requires bright light. You need to place them in a location where they will receive plenty of sunlight.

Although they can live well in a wide range of temperatures, except for heavy frost, we suggest you keep them in warmer temperatures.

A porous soil medium is necessary with sufficient drainage. Water these succulents when the surface soil becomes dry.

Portulacaria Afra Elephant Bush

Portulacaria-Afra-Elephant-Bush

Portulacaria afra, or “elephant plant”, or “elephant bush”, is the most popular succulent on this list.

This succulent plant is native to the rocky and dry slopes of the eastern region of South Africa.

There is another variegated form of this plant known as Rainbow elephant bush succulent.

When grown under favorable circumstances, these succulents produce beautifully clustered flowers. In its natural habitat, it may reach up to 12-15 feet tall.

It needs a lot of bright sunlight and warm temperatures to grow. Partial sun is good for growing them outdoors, but for indoors, you must supply them with the full sun.

Like other potted plants of the Portulacaria genus, these species can withstand mild frost.

This semi-perennial succulent shrub needs well-draining potting soil to thrive. Always water it when the growing medium seems dry.


For more information on elephant bush plants, read further about:


Portulacaria Afra Mammoth

Portulacaria-Afra-Mammoth

Portulacaria afra mammoth is also known as Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla. This species is a larger one compared to the other Portulacaria afra plants.

It is said that the emerald and glossy green leaves of this succulent are 2 times larger than the regular species of Portulacaria.

However, this shrub is undoubtedly a beautiful one and can reach up to 12 feet tall. During the summer months, it produces pale pink or lavender flowers.

Like all other Portulacaria afra succulents, this variety needs full sunlight to grow. The temperatures should be warm. You need to prepare a well-draining potting mix for growing this species.

For preparing it, you can use perlite, vermiculite, small pea gravel, and organic matter.

Mix all these materials with very little soil. Water the plants only when the topsoil seems dry.

Portulacaria Afra Minima

Portulacaria-Afra-Minima

Portulacaria afra elephant bush minima are also known as Liliput elephant bush because of their tiny leaves.

At the mature stage, this plant may reach up to 2 feet tall and wide. It has a cascading nature, which means it moves downward.

The leaves have a dark green appearance and are attached to red stems that look like necklaces. Occasionally, it produces pink flowers.

Due to its appearance, you can grow it in a hanging basket. Many people often become confused by this, thinking it’s a dwarf jade plant.

You have to grow them in full to partially sunny areas. We recommend keeping them near a south or southeast window.

Make sure that this succulent receives a minimum of 5-6 hours of regular sunlight. They can withstand frost for a shorter duration.

During the heavy frost, you need to move them to a warmer location. Waterlogged conditions will cause leaf fall and several fungal infections.

The grower should apply pesticide sprays if he/she notices any fungal issues.

Portulacaria Afra Prostrata

Portulacaria-Afra-Prostrata

Portulacaria afra prostata is also known as a trailing elephant bush succulent. It can be an excellent ground cover when grown in the garden instead of hanging baskets.

This plant is considered elephant food. It can reach approximately 2 to 3 feet tall and spread 3 feet wide.

Many people use these plants to prepare southern African cuisine. During the rainy season, it produces beautiful pink flowers.

It needs bright light and warm temperatures to grow. If you live in a hot and arid region, we suggest you water it once every 2-3 days. Protect this succulent species from heavy frost as it can kill it.

Also, waterlogged conditions for a prolonged period can be deadly. Unglazed pottery can be a great choice for increasing the evaporation rate from the soil.

For preparing a well-draining potting mix, you can mix different coarse and organic materials.

Portulacaria Afra Medio-Picta

Portulacaria-Afra-Medio-Picta

The Portulacaria afra Medio-Picta is also called the Midstripe Rainbow Bush. It is a slow-growing succulent that has ovate green leaves attached to bright red stems.

The special feature of the leaves is their white stripes in the middle. Star-shaped and pink lowers can be seen during the summer months. This Portulacaria Afra plant may reach up to 2 feet tall and wide.

Like the other succulents, it thrives well under full sunlight. Although a warm temperature is preferred, it can survive a mild frost. However, heavy frost can cause serious damage to this succulent.

The potting medium should be well-draining because poorly drained soil will cause waterlogging conditions.

During the growing season, you can use organic fertilizers like poultry grit to facilitate growth.

Portulacaria Afra Skyscraper

Portulacaria-Afra-Skyscraper

Portulacaria afra skyscraper, is another succulent species of elephant bush. It has light green to bright yellow leaves that are attached to reddish stems. This color combination gives this species an interesting color contrast.

This drought-tolerant and small bush plant produces purple flowers during the summer season. The upright stem can reach up to 8 feet long.

Like the common Portulacaria Afra species, this skyscraper succulent needs full to partial sunlight.

If you grow it in an outdoor succulent garden, then you can place it in a partially sunny spot.

Remember that exposure to the direct sun for a prolonged period will cause the foliage to turn yellow.

You need to water the succulent plant when the first 2 inches of the surface soil become dry.

Fertilize it during the early spring. You will see the softwood stems becoming thicker as the plant matures.

Portulacaria Afra Variegata Rainbow Bush

Portulacaria-Afra-Variegata-Rainbow-Bush

Portulacaria afra, variegated rainbow bush, is also known as variegated elephant bush. One can easily identify this variegated form of the Portulacaria Afra plant.

The green leaves have a creamy touch, which gives this succulent a wonderful vibe. Many people also grow this succulent in a hanging basket.

During the summer months, it produces beautiful lavender-colored star-shaped flowers.

It needs full and bright sunlight to grow like the other regular Portulacaria Afra. The temperatures should be warm.

To prepare an ideal rooting medium, you need to mix coarse materials with organic matter.

Also, make sure that there are large drainage holes beneath the container because these holes will remove excess moisture. You can fertilize them with an organic fertilizer in the early spring.

Portulacaria Afra Plant Care Guide

Succulents like Portulacaria afra are hardy plants because they can grow well in almost all conditions.

Due to their easy-to-grow nature and wonderful approach, many people grow them indoors.

Therefore, it is necessary to know about their basic demands for light, temperature, humidity, soil, and water. In this section, we will highlight their care guide.

Light

Light-for-Portulacaria-Afra-Plant

Although Portulacaria afra grows well under the full or partial sun, it grows best when grown under the full sun. They need plenty of direct sunlight to grow.

If you are growing them indoors, then provide them with full sunlight. In this case, you can keep them near the southeast or south-facing window.

Make sure that they receive at least 5-6 hours of direct sunlight each week.

When grown outdoors, you need to plant them at a location that receives bright filtered light.

During the summer months, when the temperature becomes too high, the leaves may get burned.

Temperature

Portulacaria afra plants prefer warm temperatures to grow. They can tolerate freezing temperatures or frost conditions for a short time, but exposing them to these environments for a longer period can be harmful.

If you live in an area where the temperature can get extremely high or extremely low, it will be a good choice to plant indoors.

During the winter, you should move them to a warmer place or inside a mini greenhouse chamber.

Soil

Soil-for-Portulacaria-Afra-Plant

Soil is an essential factor that plays a key role in growing Portulacaria Afra succulents. These plants need well-draining soil.

Many people directly opt for a cactus mix, which is considered ideal for growing any succulent plant.

However, you can also prepare a custom potting medium by mixing sandy soil, perlite, pumice, vermiculite, and organic materials.

The inorganic coarse materials will improve the drainage system of the potting soil. To facilitate the draining system, you can create drainage holes in the container.

Water

The water requirement of the Portulacaria afra plant depends on the climate and soil type.

Although these plants are drought tolerant and thrive with little water, they still need water. The small leaves indicate that they can tolerate dry and hot weather [1].

Always check the soil moisture at the surface layer before watering. These plants cannot tolerate excess moisture, which may cause root rot.

During the winter season, you don’t have to water these plants too frequently as they remain dormant during this period.

Propagation

Propagating-Portulacaria-Afra-Plant

Propagating Portulacaria Afra plants is quite easy. Many people find the stem cutting method the most effective one for propagating.

However, this is not the only method that you can follow for propagation.

You may also follow the leaf-cutting method, but this one is tricky and takes a bit longer than the stem-cutting way of propagating.

Common Problems With Portulacaria Afra

Generally, Portulacaria Afra plants don’t have too many problems, except for leaf falling. There are different reasons for this problem, and some of the more popular causes are:

Overwatering or Underwatering

You may experience leaf fall problems when you overwater these succulents. Overwatering is responsible for causing fungal infection, which, in turn, causes discoloration and conditions like leaf drop.

Without this, when there is less water in the soil, plants want to reduce the evaporation rate by dropping their leaves. Therefore, underwatering can also cause leaf drops.

Soil Issues

Sometimes soil issues can cause leaf fall. It happens when the nutrient content decreases or the soil isn’t well-draining.

FAQ

How Often Should I Water the Portulacaria Afra Plant?

During the summer, it should be watered weekly. On the other hand, it should be watered once every other week during the winter or when the weather cools off. Most importantly, avoid overwatering your plants! Due to the elephant bush’s relatively thin leaves, it does not store a lot of water.

Why Is My Portulacaria Afra Dropping Its Leaves?

An overwatered Portulacaria afra will either start dropping leaves or seem sick. Dropped leaves may appear yellow or brown and have a squishy texture. This typically occurs as a result of the plant having been overwatered or the soil having retained too much water and has not had a chance to dry out. 

Why Does Portulacaria Afra Plant Not Grow Fast?

Portulacaria afra does not grow fast because it is lacking nutrients in the soil or it could be susceptible to abrupt changes in temperature and humidity levels. These are typically issues with cooling or heating inside of a typical home. Elephant bush plants loathe drafts, so you should definitely shield them from air conditioning or heating vents. As with a lack of nutrients, you can add a half-strength dose of fertilizer to the soil.

Why Is My Portulacaria Afra Succulent Dying?

Portulacaria afra dies as a result of root rot caused by excessive watering or overly damp soil. Portulacaria afra should be watered only when the soil is completely dry. If the plant is kept in consistently moist soil, the leaves will start to turn brown, yellow, or black this is a sign that there is rot in the stem or roots. If this is the case, the plant is headed toward death.

Conclusion

Popular Portulacaria Afra plants that can be grown easily indoors or outdoors.

Remember that these succulents have a similar appearance to the Jade plant (or Crassula ovata) plant, but they are not alike.

To grow them, you need to maintain the light intensity and water demand in the correct way.

Although they are frost tolerant to a degree, you shouldn’t leave them outside during the winter.

An indoor gardener could keep these succulents well and have them in both an indoor and outdoor garden.

References

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  • [1] Jaarsveld, E.V. and Roux, A.L. 2021. Portulacaria afra (L.) Jacq.: Variability and distribution. Bradleya, 2021(39): 138-152. URL: https://bioone.org/journals/bradleya/volume-2021/issue-39/brad.n39.2021.a13/Portulacaria-afra-L-Jacq-Variability-and-distribution/10.25223/brad.n39.2021.a13.short
  • 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
  • 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
  • About/mentions: Portulacaria, succulent

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