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.”
A jade plant, is Portulacaria afra?
Wonderful, low-maintenance succulent houseplants like Portulacaria afra grow fairly quickly.
It resembles the traditional Jade plant (Crassula ovata) in appearance, which is why it is also known as Mini Jade or Dwarf Jade. However, it has smaller leaves and redder stems.
Despite the mistake, it is actually a different plant with some highly unusual characteristics that belongs to a whole other family.
Why is it known as a “elephant bush”?
South Africa is the natural home of the succulent elephant bush (Portulacaria afra). The succulent plant’s popular name, elephant bush, derives from the fact that elephants eat it. The succulent’s fleshy leaves are consumed by elephants. The elephant bush plant’s variegated leaves are also edible to goats and tortoises. Elephant bush is also known by the names spekboom, dwarf jade, miniature jade, and porkbush.
Elephant bushes are prized for their adaptable leaves, which bonsai growers frequently mold into interesting patterns. The elephant bush is a simple addition to your bonsai succulent garden. South Africa is also known for its love of elephant bush soups and stews. The elephant bush succulent is drought-tolerant and does well in direct sunlight outside, like most desert plants. Elephant bush plants thrive in USDA hardiness zones ten and eleven.
Is elephant bush a plant of fortune?
Portulacaria afra, sometimes referred to as the Elephant Bush, the Good Luck Jade Plant, and Spekboom, is thought to bring luck and prosperity into your home.
Is a bonsai elephant bush?
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.
Do different kinds of elephant bushes exist?
Portulacarias are occasionally referred to as “miniature jade” in nurseries, but let’s discourage it. By the way, people in South Africa refer to it as “spekboom” there.
- Portulacaria afra has an endless spread and a height of 6 to 8 feet. Put it to use as a backdrop plant or cut it into a hedge.
- African portulaca Portulacaria afra’s “Variegata” (tricolor or rainbow elephant bush) initially appeared as a sport. It has dangling, trailing branches, cream-and-green leaves, and it develops low, shrubby mounds that are many feet tall and wide. Excellent for terraces, tall pots, and hanging baskets as well as slopes.
- Portulacaria afra ‘Minima’ (“low shape” or “elephant mat”), also known as “Prostrata” or “Decumbent.” It first emerged as a sport of “Variegata,” is often smaller, and has delicate green leaves.
- The leaves of Portulacaria afra ‘Aurea’ are yellow or chartreuse rather than green like those of ‘Minima’.
- Less frequently found is Portulacaria aframacrophylla, or large-leaf elephant chow. Its name is “Portulacaria afra macrophylla gigantea ‘Bull-ephant Bush,'” which is an elephant’s mouthful.
- Portulacaria afra comes in a number of uncommon variants, such as Portulacaria afra “Skyscraper,” which is erect and narrow, Portulacaria afra “Cork Bark,” which has rough stems, and Portulacaria afra “Medio-picta,” which is a cream-pink and green variegate of “Minima.”
Elephant bush can it be grown indoors?
In habitats where it is a preferred meal of elephants, elephant bush plants can grow to heights of 6 to 20 feet (2 to 6 meters). It is considerably more likely to only grow a few feet (about one meter) tall inside the house. The bush has small, soft green leaves on thick, succulent brown stalks that resemble miniature jade plants.
Elephant bush houseplants do well in indoor environments like those found in homes. Warm temperatures and bright light are necessary for portulacaria care. The bush produces tiny pink blooms clustered at the terminals of the branches after a wintertime dormancy period.
Is a jade plant known by another name?
Commonly known as jade plants, friendship plants, money plants, and silver dollar plants, Crassula ovata is a common indoor plant. It is occasionally sold under the previous classifications of “C. argentea,” “C. portulaca,” and “C. obliqua,” all of which are wrong. The orpine family (Crassulaceae), of which this species is a member, contains over 300 different species, roughly half of which are indigenous to southern Africa. The names ovata, which means egg-shaped and refers to the shape of the leaves of this species, and crassula, which means thick or fat, relate to the genus’s meaty nature. The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-valley Natal’s thicket vegetation is heavily populated with C. ovata. The nearly spherical blue-gray leaves and distinctive waxy bloom of the very similar C. arborescens are found in the Little Karoo and Central Karoo, which are in a separate region. It features pink flower heads that are small and rounded. The roots were boiled and grated by the Khoi and other Africans before being consumed with thick milk. The leaves were also employed by them for medicinal purposes.
A simple-to-grow succulent called a jade plant holds water in its leaves, stems, and roots. It has been utilized as a landscape plant in moderate regions and as an indoor decorative around the world. It grows well in the constrained root space of pots, is somewhat slow-growing, prefers the warm, dry conditions common in most houses, and tolerates neglect, making it a good houseplant.
C. ovata develops into a tiny, rounded, evergreen shrub up to 6 feet tall in its natural environment on rocky, arid slopes. On a trunk that has a twisted appearance, it has numerous small, thick, succulent branches that, even in young specimens, suggest considerable age. On older plants, the bark flakes from the trunk in horizontal brownish stripes.
The smooth, rounded, glossy, egg-shaped leaves are borne in opposite pairs, with each pair being at a straight angle to the following pair. They range in size from 1 to 31/2 inches long and 3/4 to 11/2 inches wide. Instead of being evenly distributed along the branches, they frequently gather towards the tips. When given enough light, the green, fleshy leaves should have a crimson border or tint. Like the leaves, young stems are similarly green and extremely succulent, but as they age, they turn brown and woody. Naturally, the lowest leaves will gradually fall off. The injured leaves will die and fall off if the leaves are burned by the sun, an insecticide, or frost, but new leaves will grow in their place.
Long nights cause plants to develop tight, spherical clusters of tiny, star-shaped flowers in white or pink. Bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and butterflies are drawn to the blooms because of their subtle sweetness. Flower clusters can cover the plant in masses dense enough to conceal the foliage in favorable lighting circumstances. In ideal circumstances, fertilized flowers create a tiny seed capsule. Withholding water and keeping the plant at a cold temperature (about 55 F), particularly at night in the fall, will promote bloom. They should be stored in a place that won’t get any extra lighting so that the season’s natural light cycle will start the flowering process. Flowering should occur after several weeks of receiving cold, dry, and dark treatment, followed by routine watering.
Although they may survive in bright, indirect light, jade plants thrive in four or more hours of direct sunlight. A plant with insufficient light will have deep green leaves and drooping stems; otherwise, the plant is healthy and should have regular compact growth and reddish coloring. This plant can survive in a wide range of temperatures and humidity levels, and it can even withstand mild frost, although freezing temperatures will cause it to die. Houseplants can be transferred outdoors for the summer, but to avoid sunburn, they must be gradually acclimated to the stronger light intensity outside. Before the first frost, they must be taken indoors.
These plants thrive in potting mixtures without peat or other moisture-retentive ingredients and require well-drained soil. To make a planting mix that will drain quickly, combine topsoil with perlite, sharp sand, pea gravel, and/or chicken grit. Although it is ideal to repot them every two to three years or when a plant gets top-heavy and prone to tipping over, individual plants can be grown for many years while root-bound. Repotting should be done as soon as fresh growth appears. When repotting into the same size pot, prune the roots and trim the stems to preserve the shape and promote the growth of a thick main trunk. Till the plant is established in the new container, water sparingly.
They thrive when the soil is allowed to dry out between deep waterings, as is the case with practically all succulents. In the spring and summer, when the plants are actively growing, you can water them abundantly, but you shouldn’t let the soil get too wet between waterings. Watering should be minimized during the semi-dormant winter months, and the soil should stay on the dry side. The leaves will fall off and the stem will decay as a result of overwatering. Despite being succulents, they still require water because drought can cause dwarfing, foliage spotting, leaf loss, and even death. Jade plants can be fertilized every two months while they are actively growing or more frequently with diluted fertilizer.
Pruning is beneficial for jade plants since it helps them stay compact and grow quickly. Cutting stems back to a lateral branch is the optimal time to accomplish this in the spring. Pruning promotes root growth as well as the trunk’s development so that it can support the weight of the heavy leaves and branches. They are good choices for a succulent bonsai specimen and make wonderful sculptural plants because they can be fashioned into little trees. Within a few days, the incisions will close up, and a few weeks later, new growth will begin to appear.
Jade plants are particularly simple to grow from stem or leaf cuttings. Leaves or plant fragments that fall to the ground and are planted outside in moderate regions or in the wild will root in a few weeks. It is recommended to let the cut surfaces of cuttings heal for a few days after taking them so that they are less likely to decay. Although they will grow roots even without soil, rooting will be sped up by putting the cut end into somewhat dry, well-drained soil. Summer is when cuttings root the easiest, but jade plants can be multiplied at any time of the year. The seeds for this plant can also be sown in the spring or summer.
Mealybugs are the most frequent insect problem on this plant, which has few other pests. The white, fluffy insects that invade might distort fresh growth. To completely get rid of the pests, the plants must be cleaned frequently for a few days or weeks. The insects can be removed with a cotton swab bathed in rubbing alcohol. When using pesticides, exercise caution because there may be issues with phytotoxicity on the succulent leaves. Jade plants can occasionally become infected by spider mites.
C. ovata has a number of designated cultivars, albeit they might not be widely accessible everywhere.
- ‘Bronze Beauty’ has very slow-growing stems with tiny coppery green leaves.
- When cultivated in strong light to full sun, the leaves of “California Red Tip” have purple red edges.
- Gollum has leaves that are almost tubular, have a reddish hue, and appear to have a suction cup-like end.
- ‘Hobbit’ has dense foliage and tubular-looking leaves with scarlet tips.
- ‘Sunset’ has green foliage with pinkish red and cream/white striations.
- Chimeral cultivar “Tricolor” has pink and white flowers and pointy leaves with creamy white and rose stripes.