How to take care of the room Portulacaria afra or “Elephant bush”

Portulacaria aphra or "Elephant bush"

If you’re looking for an unpretentious plant that will add a touch of green to your home, Portulacaria aphra is a great choice. It’s popular with florists because it’s easy to care for and has a unique look that makes it stand out from other plants. We will describe Portulacaria Afra and provide tips for its indoor care and propagation.

Portulacaria afra or “Elephant bush” overview

Plant сlassification
Scientific name: Portulacaria afra
Synonyms: Crassula portulacaria
Common name: “Elephant bush” or “Spikboom”
Family: Portulacaceae
Subfamily: Portulacarioideae
Genus: Portulacaria

This succulent, also known among florists as the Elephant Bush or Spikboom, is native to South Africa.
Portulacaria Afra is a small tree or shrub that can grow up to 15 ft (4.5 m) tall in the wild, but usually grows up to 6 feet (1.8 m) when grown at home. The tree has a strong root system that feeds it even under extreme natural conditions. Its leaves are round, thick and fleshy, resembling those of the jade plant in appearance. The leaves are bright green and can change their color to red or purple when exposed to sunlight. They grow exclusively on young shoots.

портулакария африканская в природе
Under natural conditions Portulacaria afra can grow to a large size

The stem of Portulacaria Afra is thick and woody, with a coarse texture. When young, the stem is green, but gradually turns brown as the plant ages. The succulent’s bark is smooth, but becomes flaky with age.

The plant produces small white or pink flowers that bloom in summer. The flower reaches up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) in volume. Portulacaria Afra flowers are not particularly conspicuous and are not ornamental. After flowering, pink-colored fruits begin to form. Abundant and beautiful flowering can be observed only if the rules of cultivation are followed.

Portulacaria Afra flowers
Portulacaria Afra flowers

Portulacaria Afra is a favorite food of African elephants, hence its second name Elephant bush.

About Succulents

How to grow Portulacaria afra indoors

The elephant bush is easy to care for, making it an ideal choice for beginners or those who don’t have a lot of time to care for plants.


For Portulacaria Afra, it is important to choose a pot large enough to accommodate the plant’s bulky root system. Since this succulent has shallow roots, a shallow container is recommended. Also, make sure the container has drainage holes to prevent excess moisture from stagnating.


Elephant bush is a succulent, so it prefers well-drained soil in which water escapes quickly. A good soil mixture for this plant should consist of purchased soil for succulents and cacti, coarse sand (can be replaced with perlite) and brick chips (or fine gravel), in a 3:1:1 ratio.


Portulacaria afra likes bright, indirect sunlight. It is worth knowing that the more light the Elephant bush gets, the better it grows.

Суккулент Portulakarija afra в качестве бонсай
The Elephant bush is often grown as a bonsai

However, it’s important not to put the plant in direct sunlight, as it can scorch its leaves. On the other hand, if your plant becomes too long-legged or elongated, it could be a sign that it is not getting enough light.


One of the advantages of Portulacaria afra is that it is drought tolerant, meaning it does not require frequent watering. In fact, excessive watering can be devastating to this plant, as it can cause root rot.
For irrigation, it is recommended to use water at room temperature. You can also systematically perform a warm shower for Portulacaria.

Water Portulacaria Afra only when the soil is completely dry, and be sure to let the excess water drain from the pot.


Shrub does not require much fertilizer, but you can feed it during the growing season (spring and summer) with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Be sure to dilute the fertilizer to half the rate, as too much fertilizer concentration can burn the roots of the plant.


Portulacaria Afra does not require frequent pruning, but you can cut off excess shoots if the plant begins to stretch out too much or if you want to encourage the bush to grow. Use clean, sharp scissors. Cut just above the leaf nodes.

How to propagate the Elephant Bush

Portulacaria afra is easily propagated by stem cuttings. Simply cut a stem cuttings about 3-4 inches (10 cm) long and remove the leaves from the bottom of the stem.

Размножение портулакарии черенками
Portulacaria can be propagated by individual leaves as well as by cuttings

Allow the cuttings to dry for a day or two, then plant them in a well-drained soil mixture. Keep the soil moist and place the cuttings in bright indirect sunlight until they take roots.

Common Problems

  • One of the most common problems with Portulacaria Afra is over-watering. Be sure to let the soil dry completely between waterings and don’t keep the plant in a pot without drainage holes. If you notice Elephant Bush leaves turning yellow or falling off, it could be a sign of overwatering.
  • Another important problem is pests. This succulent can attract mealy bugs, spider mites and scales. To prevent a pest infestation, remove fallen leaves in a timely manner, keep the plant clean, and inspect it regularly for signs of pests. If you notice them, try using insecticidal soap or neem oil to get rid of them.
  • Finally, Elephant Bush can be sensitive to frequent temperature changes. This plant prefers temperatures of 65-75 °F (18-24 °C), and it should not be in rooms with drafts or near air conditioning vents or heating.

Portulacaria apra varieties

Several varieties of this African succulent can be found in online stores and garden markets.

P. afra Greenleaf

This is the most common variety. It has small, rounded, bright green leaves and is a great choice for those looking for a simple, classic look.

Portulacaria afra variegata

The variegated variety Elephant Bush has green leaves with white or yellow edges.

Портулакария вариегатная триколор (Portulacaria afra f. variegata)
Portulacaria afra variegata

This gives the plant a unique, eye-catching look that is perfect for those who want something more colorful.

Portulacaria afra minima (Dwarf Elephant Food)

This variety of Portulacaria is commonly known as the Elephant’s Mat. It is a more compact version of the plant, with more compact growth and smaller leaves. It is a great choice for those who don’t have the ability to grow a large plant and is easier to care for.

P. afra prostrata

This variety has a trailing growth habit, making it ideal for hanging baskets or for clinging to the edge of a pot.

Портулакария арфа как ампельное растение
Portulacaria aphra is often used in home decorations as an ampel plant

It has small, rounded leaves and is a great choice for those looking for a more unique plant.


Q. Is Portulacaria afra safe for pets?
A. Yes, Elephant Bush is non-toxic to pets and safe for your home.

Q. Can Portulacaria Afra be grown outdoors?
A. Yes, it can be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 10-11.

Q. What should I do if my Portulacaria afra becomes sluggish?
A. If your Elephant Bush bush is becoming sluggish, it’s a sign that it’s not getting enough light. Move it to a brighter location and do some pruning to encourage the bush to grow.

Q. How do I propagate Portulacaria afra?
A. You can propagate the plant by taking stem cuttings and placing them in well-drained soil. In a few weeks, the cuttings will develop roots and new shoots.

Q. How big can Portulacaria Afra grow?
A. In the wild, Portulacaria Afra can grow up to 15 feet tall, but when grown indoors it usually grows up to 6 feet tall.

Q. Is Portulacaria afra a succulent?
A. Yes, it is a succulent. It has thick, fleshy leaves that help it retain water and survive in dry conditions.

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