Look for a beautiful plant that you can grow in the garden or in your apartment or think about expanding your colorful succulents collection? There is a great option for you – the South African Portulacaria Afra. There are several reasons why you should choose this plant. First of all, it can be grown almost in any environment. Secondly, it can clean air well as it absorbs dioxide. Finally, this plant is edible.
The South-African Portulacaria Afra is often called the Elephant Bush, Elephant’s Food, Spekboom (in South Africa), or Miniature Jade. Lots of people often confuse it with the Classic Jade that is also called Crassula Ovata. However, these plants differ in the way they grow. When it comes to Portulacaria Afra, it cannot grow upright and needs some sort of support. At the same time, Crassula Ovata can grow upright perfectly well.
What Is Elephant Bush Succulent
Portulacaria Afra or Elephant Bush is a plant that grows in South Africa. The plant can reach up to 20 feet in height and it is one of the most popular food options for elephants and lots of other animals. The plant has stems of brown color that are covered with thick glossy leaves of green color.
Numerous local tribes use Portulacaria Afra as food. It is easy to grow almost in any environment. Speaking of the look of this plant, first, it looks like a small bush but as it gets older it starts resembling a tree more. Mature plants tend to have thicker stems. Young plants tend to grow horizontally but as they get older the “brunches” start to spread and hang down. That is why it is often planted in hanging pots.
Benefits of Elephant Bush Succulent
As well as premium pink succulents, this plant has a bunch of great benefits that will make you think about getting one of them. Below, we made a list of the most significant advantages of Portulacaria Afra.
Easy to Grow
This plant’s natural habitat is pretty severe which is why it doesn’t require any special care and can easily be grown almost anywhere. You just need to choose the right soil and water it properly.
Exotic and Beautiful
Portulacaria Afra has a really interesting and exotic look. It can become a great addition to your plant collection and an interesting decoration for your household.
Save and Edible
Portulacaria Afra is an absolutely safe plant. The leaves are glossy and soft and the stems are smooth. Moreover, the plant is absolutely safe for humans and animals. Moreover, it is edible completely.
How Does Elephant Bush Succulent Work
The Portulacaria Afra is also often called the Elephant Bush as it is a popular food for elephants. It is a perennial succulent shrub that grows mainly in South Africa. It is a semi-evergreen plant that in its native environment can turn into a huge tree that is up to 20 feet tall. The Portulacaria Afra is an edible plant and it is popular not only among elephants but among other animals and even local people as well.
The plant has thick stems of brown color with reddish notes. The leaves of this succulent are also thick and glossy of bright green color. Young plants look more like bushes but when they mature they grow bigger and start resembling trees more. Usually, it grows as high as 8-15 feet but you can see bigger ones as well.
This plant is rather versatile so it can be grown in different climates and environments easily. The Portulacaria Afra is sensitive to frost but can easily tolerate direct sunlight, high temperatures, significant humidity.
By the way, the Portulacaria Afra is known as a real delicacy in the local cuisine of South Africa. It is a popular ingredient of many soups, salads, and stews. It is juicy and crunchy and has a high content of Vitamin C so the leaves have a sour flavor.
Due to its natural ability to hang and grow both horizontally and laterally, this plant is often grown in hanging baskets.
Pros and Cons of Elephant Bush Succulent
- Easy to grow.
- Beautiful and exotic.
- Doesn’t require specific care.
- Can grow almost in any climate.
- Gives you an opportunity to enjoy the laid-back nature of full sunlight succulents.
- Doesn’t tolerate the cold climate.
- Needs to be covered if planted outdoors during the winter.
- Doesn’t like shadowy areas.
Elephant Bush Succulent Requirements
The Portulacaria Afra like sunlight so you should be ready to provide it with plenty of bright light. In fact, it can even easily tolerate direct sunlight. However, it is better not to expose young plants to bright light immediately and let them acclimate gradually. Also, if exposed to very bright light and high heat, the plant can get a mild sunburn.
When it comes to growing the Elephant Bush indoors, you need to make sure that you can provide the plant with as bright light as possible. The best option is to place your plant on the southern windowsill. However, if you have no such option, you can consider placing it on eastern or western windowsills as well.
For better growth, you need to make sure that your plant gets at least 4-5 hours of light per day. If there is not enough sun in your area or household, you should consider growing succulents under LED lights to make sure that the plant gets the amount of light it needs daily. It is especially important during the winter.
Outdoor Sunlight Requirements
The Portulacaria Afra likes bright sunlight so it is better to choose places where there is plenty of sunlight. The main point is that it can tolerate not only partial but also full sun perfectly. The best option is to plant your Elephant Bush in an area where there is plenty of bright but filtered sunlight. Also, don’t forget to acclimate your plant to the sunlight to avoid sunburning.
In order to do it, it is better to keep your plant in a pot at first so you can have better control over the amount of sun the Portulacaria Afra gets during the day. Increase it gradually to let your plant get used to the bright sun and protect it from burns. Otherwise, the leaves will get yellow. Moreover, even after it is acclimated, there is a chance that your plant gets sunburned during intense heat periods. That is why filtered light is preferable.
Speaking of Portulacaria Afra frost tolerance, it can be pretty impressive for a plant that grows in a warm or even hot climate. The plant can pretty well deal with mild frost and even freezing low temperatures but only for short periods of time. Depending on your hardiness zone, you can leave it outdoors all year round.
However, if the winter in your area tends to be severe, it better to make sure to move your plant indoors or cover it with some blanket or make some sort of a small greenhouse where you can keep your plant. Also, in this case, it is better to give preference to potted plants. In such a way, you can have better control over the environment. You can bring the pot inside during cold days or leave it outside when it is warm and sunny so the plant can get enough sunlight.
The Portulacaria Afra is a succulent plant which means that like all other succulents, it likes well-draining soil. One of the best options is to use a cactus mixture with added perlite to make sure it is draining enough.
You don’t need to do exact measurements but you need to miz approximately 2 parts of cactus mixture and 1 part of perlite. Also, it is a good idea to give preference to sandy soil. You don’t need to look for some specific solutions. You can simply mix 2 parts of cactus soil and 1 part of coarse sand.
When it comes to watering the Portulacaria Afra, the schedule significantly depends on the environment and climate. The Elephant Bush can grow well in a dry climate but it doesn’t mean you can water it once a month. It actually likes water so make sure to provide it with a sufficient amount of water. There are no standard rules or some sort of schedule as you need to adjust the way you water your plants according to your climate.
The best way to figure out when you need to water your plant is to check how moist the soil is. If the top inch of the soil is dry, it’s time to water your Elephant Bush. Also, if you aren’t sure about how often to water the plant, it is better to underwater it and then increase the watering based on the needs.
Common Issues With Elephant Bush Succulents
The Portulacaria Afra starts dropping leaves because of the inappropriate watering. Leaves dropping can be caused by both overwatering and underwatering. When the plant is underwater, it drops leaves in order to save some water.
It’s the natural mechanism that the plant uses to protect itself and survive and severe environment. In such a scenario, the plant can not only drop leaves but also the leaves can become flat and pale due to the loss of water supplies.
If your plant is underwatered, make sure to give it plenty of water as soon as you noticed that it loses leaves. In a day or two, the Portulacaria Afra should return to its normal state. However, make sure not to water it excessively as it may have the opposite effect. Also, make sure that you water your plant in time after it.
As we said before, the other reason why your plant can lose leaves is overwatering. If that’s the issue, the Portulacaria Afra will have very mushy and soft leaves that tend to be slightly translucent and pale. In this case, you need to reduce the watering of your plant and let it dry a bit. Also, you should consider placing your Portulacaria Afra in an area with more light and heat so it can dry out faster.
Leaves Turning Yellow
Speaking of yellow leaves, it is cultural problems that may cause it. For example, it can be because of the wrong soil, and in such a way, the plant shows you its stress. Usually, it happens because the soil is not draining enough and as a result, it is too moist. If you think that is the source of the issue, the best option is to repot your Portulacaria Afra using more suitable soil.
The other reason for yellow leaves is a lack of nutrients. It may happen because the plant hasn’t been repoted for more than 2 years. As a result, the soil got exhausted and it cannot provide the plant with the required amount of nutrients.
While succulents are considered as aren’t heavy feeders, the soil can still easily exhaust. Due to the water draining off the pot, the amount of nutrients reduces pretty fast that is why it is important to replenish them. As it was mentioned before, you can repot your plant or use the right type of fertilizers to provide it with the required nutrients.
If you decide to use fertilizer instead of repotting the plant, it is better to give preference to a fertilizer designed specifically for cacti and succulents. Also, don’t forget to check the instructions on the package as fertilizers need to be diluted.
How to Grow Elephant Bush Succulent
The Portulacaria Afra is known as one of those plants that are easy to grow especially if you decide to propagate it using stem cutting. In fact, it is the fastest way to grow this plant in your household. Also, there is an opportunity to use leaves to grow it. the main this is about understanding transplanting requirements to make this plant grow.
Step 1 – Prepare the stem
Cut a part of the stem of the plant and leave it for some time to let the cutting dry a little.
Step 2 – Use rotting hormone
You can skip this step but using rooting hormone can help your future plant root better. It can speed the process up and increase the chances for successful rooting.
Step 3 – Stik the stem in soil
Fill the pot with the soil for succulents and cacti mixed with coarse sand or perlite. When it is ready, stick the stem right into the soil.
Step 4 – Take care of the plant
First of all, make sure to place the pot with the plant in the area with no direct sunlight. Also, don’t forget to water the plant every few days or whenever the soil becomes dry.
Step 5 – Check if it is rooted
In about 4-6 weeks the plant should be properly rooted. As a result, new leaves and stems start to develop on the top of the stem.
How to Care for Elephant Bush Succulent
Step 1 – Use appropriate soil
When it comes to taking care of the Portulacaria Afra, the first essential thing to do is to choose the right soil. Make sure to use fast-draining soil. It is better to use special cacti mixes or sandy soil. You can make the DIY soil with good drainage.
Step 2 – Repot your plant
It is important to repot the Portulacaria Afra once in about two years. In such a way you can be sure that the plants can get enough nutrients from the soil.
Step 3 – Fertilize during the active growing
It is important to fertilize the Portulacaria Afra during the active growing period regularly. Especially, you need to follow this rule if you didn’t repot your plant for too long.
Step 4 – Water properly
Make sure to water your plant as soon as the top inch of the soil in the pot becomes dry. Usually, it needs to be done once a week during hot months and should be reduced to once in 21 days during cold months.
Step 5 – Provide enough sunlight
The Portulacaria Afra can easily tolerate direct sunlight but it is better to give preference to indirect light for about 6 hours per day or more.
Do’s and Don’ts With Elephant Bush Succulent
- Use well-draining soil.
- Repot your plant once in two years.
- Water the plant when the top inch of the soil is dry.
- Let it stay under indirect sunlight for at least 6 hours per day.
- Don’t forget to fertilize the plant during the active growing period.
- Don’t forget to reduce watering during the cold month.
- Don’t forget to protect the plant from cold.
FAQ About Elephant Bush Succulent
How often do you water an Elephant Bush succulent?
It needs to be watered once a week during summer and reduce to once in two weeks when the weather gets colder.
How much sun does an Elephant Bush need?
The best option is to leave the plant under indirect sunlight for about 6 hours per day.
Why are the leaves falling off my Elephant Bush?
If your Portulacaria Afra loses leaves, it may mean that it is overwatered or underwatered.
Does Elephant Bush bloom?
The Elephant Bush usually blooms only when it is grown in a mild climate and preferably in the ground. It has tiny flowers of bright pink color.
Is Elephant Bush poisonous to dogs?
There are different levels of succulents toxicity but the Portulacaria Afra is edible and lots of animals eat it so it is absolutely safe for dogs and cats.
When should I repot my Elephant Bush?
Spring and summer are the best seasons for repotting your Portulacaria Afra. Make sure to do it once in 2 years.
How do you revive an Elephant Bush?
In this case, you can remove damaged parts, take one of the healthy stems and propagate it.
The Portulacaria Afra is an amazing plant that is easy to grow. It is perfect for growing indoors and outdoors and even a total newcomer to gardening can deal with it. You just need to remember several simple rules and the plant will reward you with its beauty.
If you are looking for other beautiful plants to add to your collection, you should consider growing fascinating Echeveria succulents or blossoming Bunny Ears succulent. One other option is to start planting a wide variety of ground-covering succulents or the world’s best artificial succulents.
Photos from: Surakub888 / depositphotos.com, De19 / depositphotos.com, soniabonetruiz / depositphotos.com and cosmo.do.am / depositphotos.com.