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Elephant Bush: Grow and Care Of Portulacaria Afra 

The Elephant Bush or Portulacaria afra is a stunning ornamental plant that has a lot of uses other than beautifying indoor spaces. They are used as food for Elephants and a host of other wildlife, hence the name. 

Portulacaria afra 

Native to South Africa, this gorgeous plant is also used as dressing for salads and soups in South Africa. In addition to that, the Portulacaria is an air purifier as it gets rid of excess carbon in the air. 

It is a succulent plant that features green succulent, waxy leaves, and thick brownish-reddish stems. It is easy to mistake the Portulacaria afra for a Jade plant as the two share a similar appearance and are sometimes called Mini Jade or Dwarf Jade Portucalaria afra.

Botanical NamePortulacaria afra
Common NamesElephant bush, Mini jade, Porkbush, spekboom 
OriginSouth Africa
Plant TypeEvergreen, perennial Succulent 
Full SizeRanges from 12 feet to 20 feet tall 
Sun ExposureRanges from Full, direct sunlight to Partial shade
Soil TypeWell-draining, rich soil 
ToxicityNon-Toxic, Can be eaten by pets and people 

Portulacaria Afra Types 

There are several cultivars of the Portulacaria afra, most of which have minor differences from the main plant species; here are a few popular varieties. 

  • Portulacaria Afra Elephant Bush 
  • Portulacaria Afra Minima
  • Portulacaria Afra Variegata 
  • Portulacaria Afra Decumbent 
  • Portulacaria Afra Mediopicta

Portulacaria Afra Care

Portulacaria Afra Care

Elephant bush portulacaria afra is regarded as a low-maintenance plant that has similar growth habits as the Crassula ovata or Jade plant. By meeting its simple lighting, watering, and soil requirements, you help ensure a thriving plant. 

Portulacaria Afra Light Requirement  

The Elephant Bush would do well in an area with access to 5 or 6 hours of indirect but bright sunlight. They can tolerate direct sunlight but prolonged exposure can leave the plant a bit leggy. 

In the course of caring for the Elephant bush, you might need to relocate it often around the house as providing access to the morning sunlight would be ideal for the plant.  During the hot afternoons, you would need to provide partial shade for the plant. 

A light curtain or cloth can help you achieve this goal. Any room is ideal for the plant, just ensure it is placed close to a window, so it gets its much-needed access to lighting. 

Portulacaria Afra Water Requirement  

Portulacaria afra plants are drought tolerant, meaning they can tolerate low watering levels. However, they do perform well when watered often.

You should aim for moist soil when watering the exotic plant as excess water can open the plant up to fungal attacks. So watering should be done once a week during the hot season and once every 10 days or 2 weeks during cooler climates. 

When it’s winter, reduce the watering to once a month, and ensure you use dechlorinated water or rainwater to avoid stressing the plant’s roots. 

A good watering practice would be to check the topmost layer of the soil’s moisture level before catering. You could use a moisture meter or feel the soil with your finger. 

Portulacaria Afra Soil Requirement  

The best soil type for the Elephant bush plant would be one that is well-draining and rich. To achieve this, a healthy mix would be needed. 

Mixing two parts of Cactus potting mix and one part perlite would be ideal. You can also add sandy soil and compost to the mix and you have yourself a perfect soil for the Portulacaria afra.

Portulacaria Afra Temperature and Humidity Requirement

Portulacaria Afra Temperature and Humidity Requirement
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Humidity should be kept high for the Portulacaria afra, as they love a humidity level of 50% and above.

If you can’t maintain such a level of humidity, consider purchasing a humidifier or try regular misting.

Temperature requirements are also high for the Portulacaria, so a temperature range of 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees Fahrenheit should be ideal for the potted plant.

Portulacaria Afra Fertilizer Requirement

Little fertilizer would be needed to encourage proper plant growth, so it helps to do this during the plant’s growth stage.

Fertilizing once a month during fall and spring should be fine. Ensure you use low nitrogen fertilizer or a cactus fertilizer that has been diluted to reduce its strength.

Avoid overfeeding with fertilizer, as it can lead to a build-up in salt content leading to the plant’s succulent leaves getting scorched.

Portulacaria Afra Propagation

The Portulacaria afra or Elephant bush can be propagated by rooting the leaves, but the fastest and easiest way would be through stem cuttings.

When propagating through stem cuttings, ensure you sterilize the tools to be used, so you don’t damage the plant.

Common Health Problems of the Portulacaria Afra

  • Waterfly
  • Root rot
  • Mealybugs
  • Spider mites
  • Yellow leaves
  • Leaf Dropping

Frequently Asked Questions

How fast does portulacaria afra grow?

Elephant bush plants have an average growth speed with it taking a maximum of 6 weeks to produce roots.

Is portulacaria afra edible?

Yes, the Portilacaria afra is edible, as it can be eaten by wildlife and humans in salad. 

What is the difference between portulacaria afra and crassula ovata?

Although the Crassula ovata and Portulacaria afra share similar appearances, they belong to different genus and family.

Can you plant portulacaria afra in succulent soil?

Yes, using cactus-suitable potting soil is perfect for the Portilacaria afra

Why is my portulacaria afra dying?

Overwatering the Portulacaria is the major reason the plant might be dying, as they require frequent but little watering.