How to Care for Portulacaria afra (Elephant Bush)

The Portulacaria Afra, which is also known as Elephant Bush, and Dwarf Jade is a bush-like cascading succulent plant known for its trailing habits. It is used as an ornamental plant for outdoor and indoor decorations. This is a plant that has fleshy leaves and elephants like to eat it. That is the reason for it to be called the Elephant Bush or Elephant Food. Due to its small leaves, it is also called the Dwarf Jade plant. This plant grows like a bush, and it spreads all around quickly. They are succulent plants so they like the hot environment and full sun in the winter but during the summer their leaves can wilt if they are exposed to extremely hot temperatures and full sun of the summer.

This plant grows in the horn of the Africa region. This is an extremely gorgeous choice for an indoor plant because of its small and beautiful leaves. This plant is expected to grow between 6 to 20 feet or up to six meters if it is grown outside, while in indoor environments plants will not grow that much. Below is a complete guide about growing and taking care of the Elephant Bush plant.

Overview

Common NameElephant Bush
Scientific NamePortulacaria Afra
Genus, FamilyPortulacaria, Didiereaceae.
Size, TypeSmall, Succulent.
Color of stem, leaves, and flowersGreen stem, green leaves, purple to pink flowers.
Flowering SeasonSpring Season.
Perennial/Annual.Perennial and Evergreen.
HardinessUSDA hardiness zone 9 to 11.
Temperature rangeAs low as 25 F in winter and as high as 113 F in summer.
SunlightFull sun to partial shade.
Growth RateSlow.

Lineage

The Elephant Bush plant is a trailing succulent plant from the Portulacaria genus. This genus is a member of the Didiereaceae family. Members of this family are known for their survival skills in different kinds of environments. In Africa, this plant is eaten by elephants but can regenerate and regrow at a very fast rate. Which helps the survival of this species in Africa. This plant has many similarities to the other members of this genus, but as an individual, it also has many different and unique characteristics as well.

Appearance

The Elephant Bush Plant is a trailing plant. It has very fleshy and thick leaves. These leaves help this plant store water in the form of a gel. They use this water during the summer season to survive the partial drought conditions. These round beautiful leaves grow on the opposite ends of a node. This is also a flowering plant and produces small flowers during the blooming season. The Elephant Bush Plant can reach up to 20 feet in length as its branches keep spreading if not pruned. For that reason, if you are growing this plant in your home, you should regularly prune its large branches otherwise its size will keep increasing with time. It has a purple stem that is round, soft, smooth, and thin. This system divides into multiple branches that further divide into terminal branches.

Flowering

The Elephant Bush Plant is a flowering plant that produces beautiful and small flowers during the blooming season. Their blooming starts with the summer and lasts for up to two months. These flowers attract a lot of insects and have no scent. So, if you want, you can prune them out. The Elephant Bush Plant produces purple-pink flowers that match the color of the stem. The entire plant is covered with these flowers. It creates a beautiful cascade of flowers that trails outside the plant pot. The Elephant Bush flowers turn into small seed sacs after being pollinated. These seed sacs contain small seeds that can be used for propagation purposes.

Natural Habitat

The Elephant Bush Plant is native to Africa, where it grows in the wild. It is eaten by elephants, but its regeneration abilities help this plant quickly regrow and regenerate the dead parts. Apart from this, it is also able to survive the drought conditions in the summer in its native habitat. Its seeds also help it protect from going extinct if the seasonal conditions are not suitable for the growth of the plant for a few years in a place. With proper care, you can grow this plant anywhere in the world.

Facts

Here are some facts about the Elephant Bush plant.

  • The Elephant Bush Plant is also called the Dwarf Jade Plant.
  • Elephants eat this plant as their food, hence it is named the Elephant Bush Plant.
  • This plant is native to the wild regions of Africa.
  • It is a trailing succulent plant and can grow up to 20 feet if not pruned or if its growth is not controlled.
  • It can also be grown in indoor conditions with proper care.

Watering

Elephant Bush belongs to the succulent family so it has similar water needs. The plant likes to be watered when its pot has been completely dried up. So if you are unsure about if the pot is dry or not, you check it by two methods, one is to dip your finger in the soil and check and the other is to pick the pot and check its weight if it is heavy that means there is some water in the pot but if the pot is completely dried, you can water it.

  • The first thing while watering the Elephant Bush is to keep in mind that you need to water it sparingly, not with the flooding method.
  • Make sure that water reaches the bottom of the pot and then place it where it faces the sunlight directly, such as a window that opens towards the east.
  • This plant has so many thin leaves that make it possible for it to store the water in them, that is why it can even survive the frequent watering.

Sunlight

The Elephant Bush Plant needs full sun to partial shade conditions to grow. This is a succulent plant from the African region where it thrives in full sunlight, but outside its natural habitat where the temperature is higher, it may need protection from the sunlight during noon. The plant does a lot of photosynthesis with the help of its leaves and it requires more sunlight for the process. This is why full bright light is a plus for its growth. So, if you are growing it in a moderate environment, you can keep it outdoors in the full sunlight, but if you are growing it in a hot climate, you should keep it indoors to protect it from the hot sunlight during midday.

Temperature

The Elephant Bush plant needs moderate temperatures to grow and thrive. The Elephant Bush plant can survive temperatures as low as 25° degrees Fahrenheit during the winter season. So, you can grow it in the cold regions as well. But you need to place it inside. The plant can resist hot temperatures up to 113° Fahrenheit in the hot summer season. This wide range of adaptability to different temperatures makes it a survivor plant. You can grow it outdoors in the USDA 9 to 11 zones.

Soil

This is a succulent plant and its soil needs are similar to other succulents. You need a little more sand in the soil, sandy soils can drain excess water quickly and thus keep the plant healthy. Creating your soil mixture is also easy for Elephant Bush.

You need soil and some sand, some fertilizer if you like, then create a mixture of crushed perlite, pumice, vermiculite, add this mixture to the soil. Avoid the use of clay soil or soil that can keep the water trapped in it for long, this is harmful to the plant and requires a quick drain.

Fertilizing

If you have planted the Elephant Bush into a soil that contains all the nutrients, that is the best but if you think that you should provide nutrients from outside as well, then you can provide the fertilizers. Try using the houseplant fertilizer for the Elephant Bush. You can dilute the fertilizer and provide it to the plant once a month. This will help the speedy growth of the plant.

Repotting

Elephant Bush grows very fast and it can soon grow bigger than the size of the pot, in that case repotting is recommended. Mostly it can stay in the same pot for over a year. The best time to replant this is the spring season. First, you need to prepare a bigger pot for repotting and then take the plant from its pot and shift it into the other with care, you need to provide it water after potting so that its roots adjust easily in the new soil. 

Pruning

The Elephant Bush plant should be pruned once every year. Otherwise, it will grow into a hanging bush. It can add 6 to 7 feet in its length every year. So, to control the spread of this plant and maintain its beauty, you should prune it. Pruning should be done with care. You should make sure that you are only cutting terminal branches. You should prune the Elephant Bush plant during the summer season after the flowering. You should use sharp objects to cut the branches, leaves, and flowers from the plant. After pruning, provide your plant some water and leave it in a partial shade condition.

Problems

The Elephant Bush plant may face some common problems that are faced by other succulent plants. These include insect attacks such as spider mites, mealy bugs, and ants. They also include some care-related problems such as overwatering, underwatering, and root rotting. Among these problems, there are also some pests and fungi. There are separate methods to treat these problems. For insects, you can try washing, and using insecticides, and for pests, you can use pesticides. For the fungus, using fungicides is advised. Meanwhile, the problems related to caring can only be resolved by properly taking care of your plant. You will have to provide it light, proper watering, and proper fertilization.

Propagation

Elephant Bush can easily be propagated by cutting, when your plant is mature, you can take cuttings, the best season for cutting is spring. Once cutting is done, you need to plant them in the soil that has been prepared according to its needs. This will show better growth if you can keep it outside for a few days.

Growing with seeds

This plant can be grown with seeds but it is very difficult, that is why most gardeners recommend that it should be grown through propagation. Even if you decide to grow it from the seeds, you will only be able to see fewer results after a long-term effort.

SUCCULENT CARE GUIDE

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can we grow the Elephant Bush from seeds?

Answer:  Yes, it is possible to grow this from the seeds, but it is very difficult. That is why it is recommended to grow by cuttings.

Question: Is the Elephant Bush poisonous?

Answer: No, this plant is not poisonous for humans, and animals. It is the food of the elephant. This plant’s foliage is also used for salads.

Question:  How often should you water an Elephant Bush?

 Answer: This plant should be provided with more water during the summer days and less water during the winter days, it is a succulent, but it can tolerate more often watering as well.

Question:  How much sun does an Elephant Bush need?

Answer: The Elephant Bush is a succulent plant and it needs more sunlight for fast growth. It can be grown inside but you need to place it near a window towards east side.