Portulacaria afra is an attractive, evergreen succulent shrub, similar in appearance to the Jade Plant but with smaller leaves and more compact growth. The opposite ovate fleshy leaves of the species are a nice medium green with reddish stems on the new growth. There is also a variegate type. In its native South African habitat, Portulacaria afra blooms after spring and summer rains with small rose colored flowers at the leaf axils, but it doesn’t flower much in the Western U.S.
Portulacaria afra works well as a green background or foundation plant in succulent gardens. It can be shaped to almost any size with trimming. A fairly fast growing succulent, Portulacaria afra can serve as a tall ground cover to help prevent erosion. It would be at home in median strips and could work well to hide fences in dry areas. Hardier than the similar appearing, it is but larger-leaved jade plant. With its small leaves and shade tolerance it can work well as an indoor succulent bonsai subject. It is also useful in fire-resistant plantings. Mature plants recover quickly from damage.
The genus name is a combination of Portulaca and ‘arius’ meaning “pertaining to” in reference to the similarity of the genus to the genus Portulaca. Recent molecular tests indicate that this genus should instead be placed in the Didiereaceae, which is otherwise only found in Madagascar. Recent research has shown this plant to be an excellent carbon sponge as it has the ability to sequestrate free carbon from the atmosphere using two different photosynthetic pathways.
Known as “Elephant Food,” Portulacaria afra is used as livestock food in Cape Province and is a favorite food of elephants comprising up to 80% of their diet. It is also eaten by native peoples and is can be used as an occasional salad green.
Names and Synonyms: Portulacaria afra f. microphylla
Common Names: Elephant Food, Porkbush, Dwarf Jade Plant, Small Leaf Jade Plant, African Purslane Tree, Spekboom
Family: Didiereaceae (recently reclassified from Portulacaceae)
Origin: Western Cape area of South Africa where it grows in warm sites on rocky slopes with other succulents.
Size Label: 1 gallon
Cold Tolerance: 25 to 30°F; -3.9 to -1.1°C
Heat Tolerance: Very high heat tolerance
Light Requirement: Shade to full sun
Water needs: Drought tolerant, but can take some irrigation
Maintenance: Clip to shape as desired.
Uses: This plant works well as a green background or foundation plant in succulent gardens. It can be shaped to almost any size with trimming. It is fairly fast growing and can serve as a tall ground cover to help prevent erosion. It would be at home in median strips and could work well to hide fences in dry areas. It is hardier than the similar appearing, but larger-leaved jade plant. With its small leaves and shade tolerance it can work well as an indoor succulent bonsai subject. It is also useful in fire-resistant plantings. Mature plants recover quickly from damage.
Propagation: This plant can be easily propagated from stem cuttings. It is best to allow the cutting to callous over before planting them.
Problems: Occasional mealy bugs on indoor plants
There is a minimum purchase of any 4 plants for online orders. All plants shipped bare root. Other sizes may be available for pick up from our growing grounds in Fallbrook, CA. For more information, give us a call at 760-990-4762.
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