You can start an elephant bush bonsai from seed or by propagation. However, summer-propagated cuttings are the simplest to grow from.
Can an elephant bush be bonsai’d?
Elephant bush, Portulacaria afra, is a South African perennial succulent shrub that is grown in succulent gardens all over the world. In our region of the world, it is simply planted as a seasonal accent plant or low-maintenance houseplant. It is a rocky outcrop or slope that can be found from the Little Karoo in the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape northward into KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, the Limpopo Province, and farther north into Mozambique. It is also sometimes called elephant food or elephant plant; dwarf jade, miniature jade, or small leaf jade (but is not related to jade plant, Crassula ovata);
Although it is thought to belong to the Portulacaceae plant family, which only includes species found in Madagascar, molecular phylogenetic studies indicate this genus belongs to the Didiereaceae. According to recent studies, P. afra is a superior “carbon sponge” that can efficiently absorb more carbon from the air than most other plants (since it can grow using both normal and CAM pathways despite challenging climatic conditions) and remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equivalent amount of deciduous forest.
In mild regions, this upright, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree with soft woods can reach heights of 8 to 15 feet (hardy in zones 9- 11). Round to oval-shaped, fleshy, virtually sessile (lacks a discernible petiole), 1/2–3/4 inch long leaves are flattened and thick. The tapering branches and brittle, fleshy, reddish-brown stems that support the opposing, glossy leaves eventually turn a grayish color. The branches and trunk have a woody inner tissue despite being succulent. If not clipped, the stiff, disorganized branches will develop into a thicket. In the event that heavy branches break, they frequently take root where they land and start new plants. Jade plant-like in appearance, but with much smaller leaves that are typically closer together on thinner stalks.
The leaf was once employed as a medicine for a number of minor diseases. It is edible and is frequently consumed in southern Africa, mainly in salads or soups to provide a sour flavor. Because of its capacity to stay succulent through periods of scorching heat and dryness, it is commonly consumed by domestic and wild animals and is a favorite diet of tortoises. Elephants do consume the plant, leaving behind the lower, spreading branches and numerous broken twigs when they strip the branches of the leaves. These roots eventually help the colony to grow and thicken, giving rise to new thickets called “spekboomvelds.”
The plant cannot survive because other animals, including goats, devour it from the ground up. Except in places like parks or reserves where non-native browsers are restricted, overgrazing and inadequate regeneration are causing elephant bush populations to decline. This is because P. afra seed has a difficult time germinating in its native habitat.
After a dry winter without irrigation, plants in their natural habitat (or in regions like Southern California where they can be planted in the ground) produce a profusion of small, unnoticeable pink or white blooms in late spring or early summer. The flowers are difficult to cultivate. At the tips of the branches, clusters of flowers are created. Five pointed petals and conspicuous stamens are features of the star-shaped blooms. Tiny, clear to pink, berry-like dry fruits with one seed each follow pollinated flowers.
Elephant bushes thrive best in hanging baskets, as part of mixed succulent dish gardens, or as delicate bonsai specimens in the Midwest because of their dense branching, which lends even young plants a venerable appearance. By pinching or trimming just above a pair of leaves, the plant may easily be retained in practically any size or form because it readily generates buds whenever branches or even leaves are removed.
The succulent plant’s compact root ball fits into standard shallow bonsai pots nicely and requires less continual care because it can tolerate drying better than more classic bonsai subjects like maples or evergreens. To add contrast in color and texture, stage plants in containers alone with other potted plants. However, despite the fact that they may grow in very little soil, because of their top-heavy succulent leaves and stems, plants may need to be anchored with a rock or stake until they are well-established. The stems’ crimson hue works well as a color echo with plants with red, purple, or dark foliage, and the medium-fine texture of the foliage contrasts nicely with wide-leaved annuals or perennials like coleus or heucheras. To thrive, Portulacaria afra needs exceptionally well-drained soil and bright light. Avoid using a lot of sand since the particle size tends to be small and will fill pore spaces more quickly than other materials. Instead, use cactus mix or a bespoke potting medium with generous amounts of small pea gravel, poultry grit, pumice, or other non-porous minerals. The best pottery to use for better moisture evaporation is unglazed pottery. Typically, a south-facing window inside is the best option, but eastern or western exposures are also suitable. Too much direct sunlight may burn the foliage or cause the tips of the leaves to turn yellow or red, which some people love. To locate the best position for optimum growth, some location-testing may be necessary. After all threat of frost has gone, potted plants can be brought outside for the growing season. If a plant is suddenly relocated from inside a house to full sun outdoors, the leaves are likely to become burnt. Instead, gradually adapt the plant to the new environment. When the nighttime temperature falls below 40°F, go back inside. If there is less light indoors than there was outdoors, it can lose some leaves when it transitions.
Elephant bushes are quite drought resilient, yet with enough water, they develop more quickly and have lusher foliage. It is vulnerable to root rot in constantly damp soil, so take care not to overwater it. Winter irrigation should be minimized. Withhold water until the lower leaves start to shrink, which could take several months, unless the indoor climate is extremely light and warm. Once the day lengthens in the spring, begin watering sparingly once more, waiting until the soil has dried to a depth of one inch before doing so. Plants in pots need fertilizer every month during the growing season (or more frequently if pruning a lot to grow a dense plant in a small container). Repot the plant when the container is full or when the roots are poking through the drainage holes. Although mealybugs can be a problem, especially indoors, this plant has few pests. It does not tolerate some pesticide applications, like many succulents do. Chemicals with a petroleum base should be avoided, or tested on a small number of leaves first to ensure that the material won’t harm the leaves.
This plant can be grown from seed, however cuttings are the most common method of propagation. Within 4 to 6 weeks in any kind of potting medium at mild temperatures, stem cuttings can easily root. The optimum times to take cuttings are in the spring or summer, and the cut areas should be given a few days to callus before being placed in the rooting media. They can also take root in liquid. Even leaves that are broken off by accident while trimming or performing other tasks have the potential to take root.
There are many different kinds, but the majority of them can only be found at specialized nurseries. It is conceivable that some mislabeling occurs, which could lead to the sale of identical plants under several labels. The green varieties are typically larger and more robust than the variegated varieties.
- ‘Aurea’ is a compact type, and in full sun, the young leaves are a vivid yellow.
- Because of its fissured, corky bark, “Cork Bark,” chosen by a bonsai expert, is coveted for bonsai.
- The slow-growing variegated variant “Foliis variegatus” is perfect for container culture.
- The leaves on “Limpopo” are substantially bigger. It is the species’ most northern native form (P. afra forma macrophylla).
- The variety known as “Medio-picta” has red stems and green leaves with pale patterns radiating from the center.
- Low-growing varieties that are good for use as ground covers are “Prostrata” and “Low Form.”
- Variegata has a more compact, upright form, lighter-colored leaves with pink accents and white or cream edges than the species, although it is less tolerant of direct sunlight.
Are you able to trim elephant bush?
If the branches of this plant are not clipped, they will develop into unkempt brush. Because of this, pruning is a crucial component of elephant bush maintenance. The elephant bush in your garden will stay in top condition with regular pruning.
- Elephant Bush should be pruned to achieve the correct shape. Some people favor pruning bonsai.
- Removing leaves that are broken or dead.
- Get rid of any dead branches.
- Plant parts with illness should be cut off and disposed of completely away from the plant.
How is Afra bushy Portulacaria made?
These succulents require well-drained soil and a pot without glaze to aid in the evaporation of extra moisture. Cactus soil or potting soil that has been cut in half, combined with sand, vermiculite, or pumice, is the ideal composition for this kind of plant.
When growing elephant bush inside, use a site with indirect sunlight. The leaves may burn and fall off if the sun is too bright.
Elephant bush succulents look great in a succulent arrangement with other plants that need comparable conditions and upkeep.
Is elephant bush the same as the jade plant?
The “Elephant Bush” or Portulacaria Afra is indigenous to South Africa. They can grow up to 20 feet tall and provide food for elephants and other animals in their natural habitat. They have glossy green leaves and reddish-brown stems. Porkbush and spekboom are among of Portulacaria Afra’s other names.
They begin as a tiny bush and gradually develop into trees. As the plant becomes older, the stem thickens. It is quite simple to develop and spread these plants. USDA zones 9 to 11 are where they are most hardy. They may hang, sprawl, or grow horizontally in an erect position, which makes them a fantastic option for hanging baskets.
Because they are similar in many respects, Portulacaria Afra, also known as elephant bush, and Crassula ovata, often known as “jade plants,” are frequently confused with one another. Although they look very similar, Elephant Bush and Jade Plants are unrelated. I admit that when I initially acquired an Elephant Bush plant, I erred in doing this.
I mistakenly believed I was buying a jade plant, and to further my bewilderment, the plant’s pot was marked “Dwarf Jade.” This is due to Portulacaria Afra’s popularity among bonsai tree producers, where it is also known as “Mini Jade” or “Dwarf Jade.”
My elephant bush is leggy, why?
Bright light is ideal for elephant bushes. Although portulacaria plants may tolerate some shade, they like to receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Elephant bush plants must also be shielded from piercing direct sunlight. The leaf tips may burn or become yellow if there is too much sunshine coming in through the window.
Elephant Portulacaria plants do best when grown close to a sunny window. Elephant bush oval leaves have a rich jade hue that is kept vivid by sunlight. Additionally, avoiding too much shade keeps the stems of trailing elephant bush from getting lanky and covered in scant leaves.
The best elephant bush care advice is to give plants of the genus Portulacaria afra more light than heat or water.
Light Requirements for Growing Rainbow Elephant Bush Plants
To maintain the leaf variegation, Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’ “rainbow elephant bush needs more sunlight. You must grow rainbow Portulacaria plants in the room’s brightest area. Make sure to shield the rainbow elephant plant from the intense noon light to prevent the leaves from burning and falling off.
Long-term shade exposure will cause the leaves of rainbow elephant bush plants to turn a darker green color. The vibrant, creamy leaves may eventually lose the majority of their variegation. Consequently, it could take some trial and error to locate the best location for variegated succulents to thrive inside.
Where should an elephant bush be chopped down for propagation?
Elephant Bush, often referred to as Portulacaria afra, is a well-known succulent that is indigenous to South Africa. It may reach heights of 3 feet (90 cm) and widths of 4 feet (1.2 m). Elephant Bush can grow in either full sun or shade, does not have a pH preference, but needs well-drained soil. The best way to multiply it is by taking stem cuttings in the spring or summer.
1. Take a tip cutting, 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) long, of your Elephant Bush with a clean, sterilized razor blade. Using pruning shears or scissors can cut into the stem, delaying the healing process.
2. Trim the stem cutting’s lowest leaves, leaving a 2 to 4 inch (5 to 10 cm) part of the stem exposed.
3. Dip the cutting’s stem’s bottom 2 inches (5 cm) in a rooting agent. Excess powder can be removed by tapping the stem against the container. In order to dispose of the extra powder and cup simultaneously, many people opt to pour the rooting powder into a paper cup. This stops the rooting powder bottle from becoming contaminated.
4. In order for the wound to heal and develop a callus, place it in a warm, well-ventilated room. Elephant Bush might take anywhere from a few days to a week to fully heal.
5. Fill a pot with a diameter of 4 inches (10 cm) by mixing one part potting soil with four parts sand or perlite. To level the surface, press the earth down firmly using your hands. This results in soil that has good drainage and offers your cuttings good aeration.
6. Stir the mixture until the stem of the cutting is inserted to a depth of 2 inches (5 cm). To anchor the stem in the ground, compact the soil around it with your hands.
7. To conserve water and stop dirt from overflowing the edges of the pot during watering, sprinkle 0.25 to 0.5 inches (0.6 to 1.2 cm) of gravel over the top of the pot.
8. Use water to wet the ground. Elephant Bush doesn’t normally need to be watered frequently, but it does need consistent moisture for the growth of its young roots.
9. Set up your cutting in an area that is warm, sunny, and well-ventilated. Once the plant has developed roots and fresh growth is visible, move your elephant bush to its final place.
What is the growth rate of elephant bushes?
What Is the Growth Rate of Portulacaria afra? As long as they are in the proper circumstances for growth, fresh stem cuttings will begin to root in 4–6 weeks after being propagated. It only takes two weeks for established plants to regrow lush, vivid leaves after being stripped of them by grazing.