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Portulacaria Afra Elephant bush
Portulacaria Afra Elephant Bush Succulent

Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush Succulent”

Elephant Bush, Dwarf Jade, Elephant Food

Portulacaria afra, “Elephant bush”, is a beautiful perennial succulent plant indigenous from eastern South Africa. This plant is grown as a seasonal house plant and low caring plant in many regions.

Portulacaria afra known by various names Elephant bush, Elephant food plant, Porkbush, Elephant bush Succulent, Spekboom, Dwarf Jade, and Dwarf Elephant. However, this succulent plant does not belong to the jade plant.

Recent research says that Elephant bush is good carbon sponge; the elephant bush succulent can absorb more carbon from the air compared to other plants.

This plant is related Didiereaceae family and has glossy and fleshy small leaves with woody stems; the plant grows larger in height, around 20 feet, when giving them proper nutrition, growing environment, and enough time.

Elephants love to eat its leaves; that is why people called it an elephant bush succulent plant. Portulacaria afra succulent plant looks magnificent when used as a hanging basket. Some tips on how you can care or propagate for Portulacaria afra “Elephant Bush succulent plant”, will surely help.

Quick Look:

  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Typical water needsfor a succulent
  • Plant grows up to 12 ft (3.6 m) tall
  • Zone 10 to 11 (Minimum 30° F | 1.7° C)
  • Not cold hardy
  • Propagation by cuttings and leaves
  • Generally non-toxic to humans and animals
  • Summer Dormant

Caring and Propagation for Portulacaria afra “Elephant Bush”

Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush” Plant Size and Growth

Portulacaria Afra or Elephant bush succulent plant generally prefer growing in arid, rocklike slopes and outcrops. Its brown colored wood-like stems will grow approximately around 10′ to 20′ feet in height.

Portulacaria Afra

However, you make them as a bonsai elephant bush succulent plant for indoor planting, which is usually not much taller. This dwarf Jade plant is troublesome to rise in USDA zones 9-11.

Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush” Flowers and Fragrance

The Elephant bush succulent has reddish-brown stems with sprouting small glossy leaves. It is rare whenever Portulacaria Afra succulent bloom. Usually, an elephant bush succulent does not bloom in cultivation until they do not get the proper growing condition and care. From October to November, an old enough Elephant Bush succulent plant occasionally blooms after a rain in the fall months.

Portulacaria Afra

A healthy and well growing Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush” will surely give flowers in a group, white, pink or purple in shades. This flower’s fragrance is a little bit hard to explain; “how its smell is”?

Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush” Lighting and Temperature Needs

Elephant Bush Succulent “Portulacaria Afra” needs enough glowing and fair light, and a warm climate to grow and thrive properly. Plant your Elephant Food plant in enough sunlight or partial shade.

But if you relocate your plant from indoor to outdoor in full sun, be careful, all the indoor plants are in a form of bonsai, and probably they don’t need plenty of sunlight but it doesn’t mean bonsai plants do not need sufficient sunlight. Your plant leaves probably burned off if you left your plant in very extreme sunlight for a long.

Portulacaria Afra

This is the reason why lots of Gardner prefers partially shed or filtered sunlight. These plants are not suitable for cold environment zones, especially for outdoor planting; however, Rainbow Elephant Bush can handle mild cold temperature 25° degrees Fahrenheit for a little long.

Plant your “Portulacaria Afra” Elephant bush succulent in a container or any suitable pot, if you live in any cold zone; so that you easily shift your plants in the house whenever winter starts.

Indoor lighting for Elephant bush

If you are an indoor succulent grower, remember to provide as bright light for your Portulacaria Afra as possible in-house. The plant needed 5 to 6 hours of bright sunshine every day. Placing your plant at a window where enough sunlight comes over would be best for your plant’s lighting needs.

If you live in an area where you can’t get enough sunlight for plants, consider giving them grow-light to meet the proper lighting needs to thrive well.

Outdoor lighting for Elephant bush

Elephant bush succulent “Portulacaria Afra” grows well in the regions where it gained much sunlight, but they love the filtered sunshine. Your dwarf jade plant must acclimate to the sun; if it’s not, then probably over-lighting may cause the leaves to sunburn.

If you kept your plant outdoor, put it in any bright sunny place. Slowly increase the sun-lighting hours; it will be best for the plant; to be wholly acclimated to the sun and prevent leaves from sunburn. Keep in mind, intense heat or any heat-wave can still cause sunburn in leaves.

Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush” Watering and Feeding

Elephant Bush “Portulacaria Afra” can survive in dry soil and handle dry soil so well. This is why you don’t need to getting stress about its watering. Elephant bush succulent adopts warm or dry soil circumstances as sooner as possible.

Watering any plant depends on your existing environment. These plants prefer a dry climate; however, your “Elephant bush succulent” will thrive and grow with adequate watering. There is not any predefined schedule for watering because it depends on your living region.

Portulacaria Afra

I live in a warm environment, so I watering my dwarf jade succulent plants accordingly. Usually, I can feel my elephant bush plant needs water almost every 7 to 8 days in a warm climate. Therefore, I decrease watering to my elephant bush when winter starts.

I always say that avoid overwatering. Keep in mind; many of the succulent’s variety die due to overwatering. Elephant Bush “Portulacaria Afra” don’t like wet soil because the “elephant bush” roots are slightly susceptible to rot. So forget about keeping the soil moist is best for the plant.

Indoor watering for Portulacaria Afra

I advise avoiding watering in the winter months unless the soil dries or the indoor environment has lots of bright lighting and sunshine. Usually, the indoor succulent plants require watering every 7 to 8 days but watering as your living environment accordingly is fine.

Outdoor watering for Portulacaria Afra

As compared to indoor plants, Outdoor plants need frequent watering due to the warm environment and enough sunshine. But as I said above, watering accordingly as your climate is best. Outdoor planted Elephant bush often required less watering.

In a comparison of other succulent plants that are potted in the garden, Portulacaria Afra can handle overwatering, a little bit, for some time.

If you are still looking for a correct way to water elephant bush, evaluate if the upper 1 inch of soil properly dries, only then watering your plant again. Fertilize your plant in the spring season or after winter; use any diluted fertilizer with the optimal amount of strength.

Where to Plant “Portulacaria Afra” Elephant bush Succulent

Portulacaria Afra is a many-sided succulent plant that can also be grown indoors like a bonsai plant or in a hanging basket for a more beautifying experience.

Portulacaria Afra

The roots of Elephant bush succulents are very adaptable as well as thrive easily in containers. This “elephant food” plant loves to share planting space with other succulents, but still, if you plant elephant bush alone in the pot or any container, it easily thrives.

Even without lots of soil, the leaves quickly become large and stable the plant. Only you have to insert some rocks and stakes in the soil mixture.

Things to remember when planting Elephant bush succulent

  • Ensure that Portulacaria Afra is appropriately planted and thrive well; receive a sufficient amount of sunshine; the soil you use is also well-drained and has proper nutrition.
  • A self-made potting mix with perlite, sands, peat, and pumice is suitable for this type of succulents.
  • Avoid adding lots of sands to the potting mixture, which is not ideal, and promote water preservation.
  • For proper water evaporation, avoid choosing a glazed container; choose any optimal container similar to a terracotta pot with a large drainage hole.

If you plant your elephant bush indoors, keep it in mind, place your plant in a place where proper sunlight is across, put in a south-facing window is fine. However, when your plant receives plenty of extreme sunlight, its leaves become red and yellowish tips. Avoid an extensive amount of sunshine if you want to retain your leaves green.

Read more: How to properly plant a succulent?

If you plant your elephant bush indoors, keep it in mind, place your plant in a place where proper sunlight is across, put in a south-facing window is fine. However, when your plant receives plenty of extreme sunlight, its leaves become red and yellowish tips. Avoid an extensive amount of sunshine if you want to retain your leaves green.

Try to find an ideal spot for your elephant bush succulent plant; well, maybe it takes some time to find, but still worth it for your plant’s overall growth.

Soil and Repotting Needs of Portulacaria Afra

Ideal soil for Elephant bush

Portulacaria Afra needs well-drained soil just like other succulent plants. I used a simple cactus soil potting mix with perlite for my elephant bush plant for more drainage. However, I often do not measure the soil mixture correctly, but using about a 2: 1 cactus soil mixture and perlite is best. Alternatively, you can also use coarse sand about (2:1) in ratio.

Note: Avoiding adding an extra amount of sands which retain moisture for long.

How to Repot Elephant bush?

If you water your Portulacaria Afra a few days before Repot, it would be suitable for your plant so that plant could not get stressed during the repotting process.

This plant will willingly come out of the Pot just by squeezing the sides with soft hands, turning it upside down, and then gently pull it out from the Pot.

Take some soil mixture along with succulents and place it in the bottom of Pot.

Fill the sides with potting soil mixture around the Pot with some pumice. You are also topping it with some compost.

Read more: How to repot a succulent

Propagating Portulacaria Afra “Elephant bush Succulent”

It seems rare to propagating Portulacaria Afra from seeds. Like most other succulents plant, it’s easier to propagate Portulacaria Afra from stem cuttings. Well, this is my favorite method to propagate Elephant bush; you can also reproduce dwarf jade plants from leaves, but usually, I would not prefer this way of propagation.

Portulacaria Afra

Generally, propagating stem cuttings would not take a long time because the elephant bush’s cuttings will take root around 4 to 5 weeks without much caring about the environment, As long as they get adequate sunshine and a warm climate.

Propagating through leaf cutting is another alternative but ensure using whole leaves, including the base. I always prefer to propagate through stem cutting; it is fast and easy. Propagation through leaves is a little bit tricky and takes a longer time than usual.

Steps to be taken for a Proper Elephant bush Propagation:

  1. Take some stem cutting by sharp pair of scissors or any knife and let them dry for a few days.
  2. Using rooting hormone is optional; either you use and dip the cutting end in rooting hormone. However, I usually do not use it, but some people find it helpful in propagating and speeding up the overall process.
  3. Once the cutting stem dries and appropriately heal, then you can place it in a well-nutritional cactus soil or any self-made succulent soil.
  4. If you use leaves for propagation, either you can lay them flat in the Soil or stick them gently in the Soil.
  5. Please keep it away from the direct sunshine whenever the plant is taking the roots.
  6. Soonly after two weeks, you will see new roots start developing.
  7. The roots fully develop after four to six weeks. Soon you notice new fresh top-level growth in plants stem.

Now you see it is easier to propagate from stem cutting. Even I grew lots of Elephant bush succulents in my garden, giving them to friends as a gift.

Portulacaria Afra’s Common Problems while Growing

Leaves Dropping

The Reason behind dropping leaves from any succulent plants, including elephant bush, is watering issues. Both overwatering and underwatering can causes leaves to drops from the plant. When the plant looks underwatered, it drops the leaves due to preserving the water storage in the plant.

Due to lack of water supply, the leaves seem as shriveled and flat look. When trying to touch it, the leaves feel deflated and flat because they continue to lose their water quantity. You easily notice this thing happening when you kept your plant dry for a long.

The plant needed enough watering; it would be best to water your plant accordingly when you notice the soil’s upper top 1 or 2 inches looks dry. Leaves dropping are further happened when you without noticing that either plant needs water or not; water them again and again.

Without much effort, you can identify the signs of overwatering; the elephant bush leaves will be appeared, like pulpous and soft; even the color of the leaves will also be turned lighter and deliver translucent color.

Yellowish Leaves Issue

The leaves of the elephant bush become yellowish due to several causes.

Due to soil and wetness: Probably your plant is potted in the wrong soil mixture; the soil you use would not be draining fast enough and keep the moisture for a long; with which plant looks unhealthy and soonly leaves become yellow.

When this issue occurs, it is right to use something more appropriate potting mix that well drains instead of the current soil mixture.

Due to lack of nutrition: it is another problem that occurs when the plant could not get proper nutrition. Although succulent is usually not a heavy feeder, it is necessary to repot them if you did not repot them for a year or maybe two. Instead of if you do not wish to repot them now, at least change the soil mix. Or you can also fertilize your plant. The best time to fertilize your plant would be the spring season.

Elephant bush Portulacaria Afra Uses

Elephant bush succulent has several exciting uses.

  • Feels most satisfying, when hanging Elephant bush in a basket.
  • Growing Elephant bush as a bonsai plant in a pot, or grow as a miniature tree in a garden.
  • Can be grown in a terrarium with other succulent plants.
  • Portulacaria Afra can also be used for home interior decoration.

Besides to being a well decorative succulent plant, Elephant bush succulent also has many other uses.

Portulacaria Afra

As we earlier discussed, it is well known as a carbon-sponge plant that absorbs the environment’s carbon. This dwarf jade plant also used as food for the elephant; that why it called the “Elephant food plant”, but some other animals like goat and tortoises also eat it.

Due to its sour taste, this plant used as ingredient in stew and salad in some portions of southern Africa.

Final words

Elephant bush succulent “Portulacaria Afra” is an astonishing succulent plant. When growing them indoor or outdoor, it has many benefits, especially for decorative purpose. If you find a perfect spot for putting your dwarf jade plants, it will deliver quick growth with minimal efforts.

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Pradeep works as a gardener since 2015; currently, he worked as a blogger at He loves to write about succulents and many other unusual plant care and propagation tips.