Succulent plants have become so popular because they offer low maintenance and diverse shapes and textures, both in the garden and indoors. Crassula is a diverse and extensive genus of succulent plants, with about 350 species. Probably the most well-known is the Jade plant (Crassula ovata). Many of us know it as a houseplant, but in warm climates, it grows into a shrub.
Many other Crassula species are much smaller, including some miniatures and creeping ground covers. They are all quite fascinating, the types of plants you see occasionally and wonder “What is that?” With the resurgence of succulent container gardening, these smaller Crassula species are becoming more readily available and their easy growing habit makes them worth getting to know.
- Botanical Name
- Common Names
- Hardiness Zones
- Sun Exposure
- Mature Plant Size
- Bloom Period
- Design Tips
- Varieties to Grow
- Succulents Box Subscription (June 2018) – Crassula Care Guide
- WHAT IS CRASSULA?
- Plant Profile
- Portulacaria afra ‘Green’ – Elephant Bush, Miniature Jade
- Elephant’s Food
- The Poison Potential of Succulents
- Growing Elephant Bush Indoors: How To Care For Elephant Bush Houseplants
- Elephant Bush Succulents
- Growing Elephant Bush Houseplants
- How to Care for Elephant Bush
- Propagation of Elephant Bush Succulents
- Elephant Bush Plant Care
- Elephant Bush Propagation
- Elephant Bush Pest or Disease Problems
- Elephant Bush Portulacaria Afra Uses
Because of the shapes and forms of their leaves, Crassula plants lend themselves to very descriptive common names. Crassula barklyi, the ‘Rattlesnake Plant’, looks like the tip of the snake’s tail. Crassula argentea, is called ‘Living Coral’. Crassula perforata, with it’s twirling leaves stacked one on top of another is known as ‘String of Buttons’. This is an intriguing genus of plants.
Most Crassula species are only reliably hardy in USDA Zones 9 through 10, but elsewhere you could bring them indoors for the winter. They won’t get as large as plants grown outdoors, but they make great houseplants.
Full sun to partial shade. Most Crassula plants need some shade in the hottest part of summer, but require bright light to attain their most vibrant color. A site with morning sun and afternoon shade would be perfect.
Mature Plant Size
The size will vary with species and variety, from shrubs several feet tall to tiny specimens of a couple of inches. Of course, growing conditions will also play a large factor in how large they grow, as well as how quickly. Since they do not need pruning or shaping, Crassula plants will continue to grow.
Crassula plants will bloom in spring and summer. Some varieties of Crassula have lovely flowers and others are insignificant. Many gardeners remove the flowers that are not particularly showy.
The smaller Crassula are perfect container plants—low maintenance, evergreen and eye-catching. If you have the climate, the plants look terrific tucked into and hanging over walls.
Jade plants in their natural element will be one of the easiest plants to maintain in your garden. Their dark, glossy green color is a great foil for almost any flower color.
Varieties to Grow
There are so many to choose from, you may become a collector. Here are a few that might catch your eye.
- Crassula “Morgan’s beauty”: Thick silver leaves dusted in white, with pretty pink late spring flowers. Grows about 8 inches wide.
- Crassula erosula “campfire”: Long branching leaves turn blazing red in winter. A clump former that grows about 1 ft tall and spreads 3 ft wide.
Crassula pellucida subsp. marginalis “variegata”: A flowing mass of heart-shaped leaves variegated in pink, green, and creamy yellow. Nice in a hanging pot.
Crassula perforata: Known as the stacked Crassula, their leaves rotate around a central stem, giving them their common name, ‘String of Buttons’.
Succulents Box Subscription (June 2018) – Crassula Care Guide
June has arrived, which means you should be expecting your new Succulent Subscription Box delivered to your door any time now! This month we are featuring 4 varieties of our lovely Crassula plants in your Succulents Box: Baby Necklace, Red Pagoda, Tiger Jade, and Calico Kitten. We thought you would want to learn more about each of them and how you can provide the best care for these Crassulas as they become the new additions to your succulent collection.
WHAT IS CRASSULA?
Crassula is a genus of succulent plants that includes more than 350 species indigenous to many different parts of the world. The most popular species used in gardening are mostly native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Crassula species vary in size, some are less than 1-inch ground covers while some living in warm climates can grow into 6-foot shrubs. Crassulas make great houseplants and are perfect to grow in containers thanks to their easy growing habit, low maintenance, evergreen and eye-catching nature.
You can propagate crassulas by division, offsets or leaf cuttings. The easiest way is to propagate from a single leaf: placing the leaf into a succulent or cacti mix, then covering the dish until they sprout.
It’s important to provide porous soil with adequate drainage. However, crassulas are not picky when it comes to soil pH. They will do well in sandy or even rocky soil.
Bright, filtered light and ample airflow are recommended to attain their most vibrant colors. But most Crassula plants need some shade in the hottest period of summer to avoid sunburn. Growing them in a place with morning sun and afternoon shade would be the most ideal.
Water thoroughly only when the soil is dry to the touch (about every 2 weeks). Never let your succulents sit in water and do NOT water on the leaves.Don’t forget to learnhow to water your succulents the right way.
You can water more often if you live in areas with hot weather because your soil will dry out faster. Reduce watering in winter because the succulent can lose its roots if the soil stays cold and wet for an extended amount of time. Make sure to protect from frost to prevent scarring.
Feed sparingly. You can give your plants a little organic fertilizer in mid-spring, as they start actively growing.
Pests and Diseases
Despite being easy to grow, Crassulas are vulnerable to mealy bugs and other fungal diseases. Pay close attention to the condition of the plants so that you can notice the diseases at an early stage. You can find our detailed instructions on how to get rid of mealy bugs on our blog.
Crassula Baby Necklace
Crassula Baby Necklace is a special plant that has small, rounded and tightly stacked leaves with many colors similar to a string of beads on a necklace. Therefore, it is also known as ‘String of Buttons’, with Crassula rupestris ssp. This plant has excellent tolerance to drought and cold weather although it prefers to be protected under the sun. Baby Necklaces can grow up to 6″-12″ tall and are commonly grown in the quartz stone fields.
They have wonderful trailing stems for hanging basket. They can grow up so fast in succulent garden or window sill. They prefer bright light but not direct noon sun. They need very little water and only when the soil is dry.
Crassula Red Pagoda
Photo from flickriver.com byentireleaves
Crassula Red Pagoda is a branching perennial succulent. It initially looks like pink-tinged rosettes; later the leaves can become pagoda shaped and with proper care can turn red. Some specimens are redder than others. If you have a grow light or a sunny porch/garden, the green one will quickly turn pink and red at the tips. The more sun you give it, the redder it gets.
Red Pagoda’s color is brightest in winter in response to short, cool nights and bright sunlight. But we recommend taking the plant inside if the temperature goes down below freezing.
Light: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: A well-drained succulent mix
Hardiness: Zone 9 (20°F)
Crassula Tiger Jade
Crassula Picturata Tiger Jade is an awesome small-sized succulent with geometric growth pattern. The plant has unique colors: dark green leaves with black spots and purple undersides. Pale pink and white flowers usually bloom in early summer.
Light: Full sun, requires bright light for a minimum of 6 hours
Water: Allow plant to completely dry between thorough waterings
Hardiness: Zones 9-11, Cold Hardy from 20° to 30°F
Crassula Calico Kitten
Crassula Calico Kitten is an adorable succulent that grows long trailing branches of colorful heart-shaped leaves. The leaves have a lovely combination of rose, pink, cream and green shades. It’s perfect for hanging baskets or to spill over rock walls or path edges. Calico Kitten blooms in late spring to early summer.
Sun Exposure: Full sun, sun to partial shade, light shade
Bloom Color: Rose/Mauve, Pale Yellow, Green
Where to Grow: Suitable for growing in containers. This plant is suitable for growing indoors.
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Update: We’re all sold out of the Crassula Red Pagoda and will replace it with the Crassula Pagoda Village in your subscription box from now until the end of June.
Crassula Pagoda Village
Photo from World of Succulents
Crassula Pagoda Village grows triangular-shaped and stacked leaves that look like the structure of a pagoda on short stems. Their leaves might have red, purple, or green colors. They can grow up to 9 inches and bloom tiny white flowers, sometimes flowers are pink. They grow best in well-drained soil in light shade. They need to be protected from frost.
Soil: Well-Drained, Rich, Gritty
Light: Full Sun
Bloom Time: Mid Summer, Late Summer/Early Fall
Flower Color: White
Zone 8b 15 to 20 °F
Zone 9a 20 to 25 °F
You can refer to this Plant Hardiness Zone Map from USDA to determine which zone your area belongs to.
Image source: USDA
We hope this complete care guide for Crassula plants will be helpful for you when you get your new Subscription Box this month. You can expect to receive from 1 to 4 of the plants featured, depending on the subscription plan you chose. Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have on how to care for Crassulas.
Collectors, enjoy your lovely Succulents Boxes!
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World of Succulents
The crassula ovata, money tree or lucky tree, usually named after the tree Crassula ovata, belongs to the family of thick leaved plants (Crassulaceae). It is also counted to the subfamily of Crassuloideae. The money tree grows to a maximum height of about 2.5 meters. It is thick-stemmed and straight, has many and thick branches. At its base, it is often starkly branched.
- family of thick leaved plants
- subfamily of Crassuloideae
- genus: succulent plants
- species: money tree
- floral element of the Capensis
- widely branched and green shrub
- grey-green succulent shoots
- succulent leaves
- origin: South Africa
- flowering period from June until August
- maximum height about 2.5. meters, usually between 50 and 130 centimeters
- maximum diameter of the main stem about 6 centimeters
The Crassula ovata was first described as Cotyledon ovata by Philip Miller in the year 1768. The money tree can be mostly found in South Africa – primarily in the provinces KwaZulu-Natal and Ostkap. The most varieties of the money tree exist as ornamental plants – mostly in the form of a houseplant or in predominantly sub-tropical gardens.
Popular cultures of the lucky plant are for example “Hobbit” and “Gollum”. Because the Crassula ovata stems from the sunny areas of Africa, it should always be placed in a warm and bright place.
Best suitable for the care of the Crassula ovata is a mixture of substrates of mineral elements and a particularly nutrient-low soil. The substrate for the succulents should ideally be very permeable to water, so that there is no waterlogging after watering of the plants.
The following mixture is the ideal substrate:
- a good 50 percent succulent soil (cactus compost, but also potting soil possible)
- for the rest (about 40 percent) mineral elements
For the water drainage to work best, there should be used a layer of a few centimeters such as clay fragments. This layer (about 4 to 5 centimeters) is inserted into the planting pot before filling in of the substrate. The Crassula ovata or money tree originates in South Africa and there it is primarily cultivated in the cold summer months.
The best place for the money tree is therefore:
- a bright and warm location
- no great heat or cold as well as no rain
- substrate should be very permeable to water
- moderate watering is important
- avoidance of damming moisture and dryness
Solely every few years (about every three to five years), it is necessary to replant the money tree into a larger pot. Rather small and light pots are not suitable for the Crassula ovata, because it is prone to fall over due to its heaviness in its upper part.
Best for planting and replanting are relatively heavy pots made from clay with an appropriate diameter. Essential for the long life of a money tree is that the newly planted tree is pressed tightly in the substrate. Hurting the roots is strictly to avoid.
For replanting the money tree remember:
- to assess, if the plant needs to be replanted or not, one can take it at the beginning of the growing season out of the pot and have a look whether the roots are already showing through
- if this is the case, the money tree can be replanted in a larger container
- if the old pot is still large enough, it can still be used
- please note, before the plant is replanted: Carefully shake off the soil from the roots and clean pot thoroughly
- also important: directly after repotting, the money tree should be protected from the sun for at least 14 days
If the money tree is in the main period of its growth, it should only be watered relatively scarcely, meaning the bale must only become moderately wet. This nursing instruction is to be followed because the tree is capable of saving lots of water in its leaves.
If the plant gets too much water during the growing season, the danger could be that root decay develops and the substrate becomes too wet.
Please also take note that:
- the dormant period of the money tree is between October and February. During this time, there should also only be limited watering
- there should only be given so much water that firstly no dryness of the bales develops and secondly the soil does not dry out
- the ground rule for watering should be: Rather one time less than one time too much
With the above mention tips, there is nothing in the way of growing and the flourishing of the money tree. In terms of fertilization, it is sensible, to give the money tree especially in the growing phase about once a month a not highly concentrated dissolution of cacti fertilizer. In the dormant phase of the plant (September to February) do not fertilize.
There are various possibilities to choose from for the propagating of the money or jade tree:
Firstly, it is possible to build a sowing from offshoots or also cuttings. Towards the end of the winter time, the cuttings can be separated from the money tree and with caution put in a water-filled container (such as a small pot or a vase).
The formation of roots takes place quickly in this way and it is also easy for beginners to complete. About 14 days should be given for the root formation before the small plant is planted or replanted.
A second way for the propagating of the Crassula ovata is to use the thick leaves of the plant. These should be carefully removed before putting them in soil. The soil used here should also be preferably cacti soil. Essential is that the planted leaves (note: one leave is sufficient for propagating) are at a bright and warm place. With this method, there is a quick formation of roots.
A third option for propagating is the use of seeds/succulents.
Hybernating / Overwinter
In the winter months from about October unti March, some things should be paid close attention to:
- the Crassula ovata needs a relatively dry, calm and cool time during the winter months
- ideal for the money tree at this time are temperatures of not less than five degrees and a maximum of 12 to 13 degrees
- only minor watering as well as the coolness are immensely important for the money tree in the winther months as through this way the flower formation will be activated
- will there be too much watering through the winter months, there is danger of it developing putrefaction and finally the death of the tree
- also important is that there is no fertilizing of the money tree during winter
After winter time, meaning from about mid of March, the Crassula ovata can be watered more again. In the beginning moderate fertilization can be started again. The beginning of the fertilization should be in congruence with the first sprouting.
There are mainly two kinds of pests that can infest the money or jade tree,
Mealy bugs and plant lice. Indications, that the plant is plagued by pest infestation, are mainly:
- the increased loss of leaves
- sticky and yellow excretions on the leaves
When there are both indications, it is highly likely that a pest infestation is on hand. Especially weakened money trees are vulnerable to pest infestation. To get rid of the plant lice, it is advisable to use the for this situation produced plant sticks. These sticks, a combination of different fertilizers, can easily be inserted into the soil.
When watering the Crassula ovata, the active substances will be absorbed and the pests will die off. Is the jade tree shedding leaves, should one thing be checked before assuming a pest infestation and measures should be taken accordingly:
Has the money tree possibly been watered too much? Because also in this case, the plant will shed leaves.
The money or jade tree belongs to the so-called succulent plants, that means that a money tree – like a cactus – is extraordinarily rich in juice. Cacti belong to the most popular kind of succulents. Aside from that the money tree is another famous succulent which is also very decorative.
To list all kinds of money or jade trees is rather difficult as there exist a total of about 300 species of money trees. Differences between the species are most notably about growth.
Popular and very common species are:
- the Crassula ovate: produces several sprouts and grows upright (therefore also the “tree” in the name “money tree”)
- the Crassula muscosa: straight and densely scaled sprouts; she is therefore also called “laces”
- the Crassula rupetris: round, fleshy, green-brownish leaves; this one is generally also called “Rock-Thick-Leave”
The money tree is a very beautiful plant, but is also in need of special treatment. However, the money tree is quite resilient and can not only by very well cared for and propagated by plant experts but also by beginners when applying the listed tips and tricks.
The tree-like and very well-known Crassula ovata is highly suitable as a houseplant – either for example at the office or for the living or bed room. Fundamentally, the money tree has a great reputation because there exist many myths and stories all around the world revolving around this popular houseplant.
Portulacaria afra, at the Karoo Desert Botanical Garden, Worcester, South Africa.
Elephant bush, Portulacaria afra, is a perennial succulent shrub from South Africa that is a popular succulent garden plant around the world. It is easily grown as a seasonal accent plant or low maintenance houseplant in our part of the world. Also sometimes called elephant food or elephant plant; dwarf jade, miniature jade or small leaf jade (but not related to jade plant, Crassula ovata); porkbush; or spekboom (in Afrikaans) or other common names in Africa, it is found on rocky outcrops and slopes from the Little Karoo in the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape northwards into KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga and the Limpopo Province and further north into Mozambique.
Elephant bush as a houseplant.
Although it is considered to be in the purslane plant family (Portulacaceae), molecular phylogenetic studies suggest this genus should be in the Didiereaceae, a group otherwise found only in Madagascar. Recent research has shown P. afra is an excellent ‘carbon sponge’, with the ability to efficiently use more carbon from the air than most other plants (since it can use both normal and CAM pathways to grow despite adverse climatic conditions) and can therefor remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest.
The stems are brown when mature.
This is a soft-wooded, semi-evergreen upright multi-stemmed shrub or small tree that can grow 8 to 15 feet tall in the ground in mild climates (hardy in zones 9- 11). The fleshy, flattened, ½-¾ inch long nearly sessile (without a distinct petiole) leaves are round to oval in shape. The glossy emerald green, opposite leaves are borne on brittle, fleshy reddish-brown stems and tapering branches that mature to a grayish color. Although succulent, the trunk and branches have a woody inner tissue. The stiff, irregularly arranged branches will grow into a thicket if left unpruned. Heavy branches may break off, often rooting where they fall and beginning new plants. It looks superficially similar to jade plant, but has much smaller leaves that tend to be closer together on thinner stems.
The rounded to oval leaves are nearly sessile on the reddish stems.
The foliage is edible – and is commonly eaten in southern Africa, usually in salads or soups to add a sour flavor – and was traditionally used medicinally for a variety of minor ailments. It is widely browsed by domestic and wild animals because of its ability to remain succulent despite periods of searing heat and drought, and is a favorite food of tortoises. Elephants do eat the plant, leaving the lower, spreading branches and a lot of broken twigs as they strip the branches of the leaves, which later root to expand and thicken the colony, creating new thickets known as “spekboomvelds”.
The foliage of elephant bush is edible.
Other animals, such as goats, eat the plant from the ground up preventing the plant from surviving. Overgrazing and poor regeneration is causing a decline in elephant bush populations, except in areas such as in parks or reserves where non-native browsers are limited, as P. afra seed has great difficulty germinating in its native habitat.
Plants produce a myriad of tiny, inconspicuous pink or white flowers in late spring or early summer in its native habitat (or in places like Southern California where they can be planted in the ground) after a dry winter where plants are not irrigated. The flowers are rare in cultivation. Flowers are produced in clusters at the ends of the branches. The star-shaped flowers have 5 pointed petals and prominent stamens. Pollinated flowers are followed by tiny transparent to pink, berry-like dry fruits, each with a single seed.
Elephant bush generally only flowers when grown in the ground in mild climates (L), with very tiny pink flowers (R) on the ends of the succulent stems (LC and RC).
In the Midwest elephant bush is best grown in a hanging basket, as part of a mixed succulent dish garden, or as a tender bonsai specimen as the dense branching gives even young plants a venerable look. The plant readily produces buds wherever branches or even leaves are removed, so it is easily kept almost any size or shape by pinching or cutting just above a pair of leaves pruning.
Elephant bush is well suited to growing in a hanging or elevated container.
The small root ball adapts well to typical shallow bonsai containers, and being succulent it is more tolerant of drying than more traditional bonsai subjects such as maples or evergreens so requires less constant attention. Plants in containers alone can be staged with other potted plants to provide contrast in color and texture. But even though they can grow in very little soil, their succulent leaves and stems make them top heavy, so plants may need to be stabilized with a rock or stake to keep it stable until well established. The medium fine texture of the foliage is a good contrast to wide-leaved annuals or perennials such as coleus or heucheras, and the reddish color of the stems coordinate well for a color echo with plants with red, purple or dark foliage.
Portulacaria afra needs bright light and very well-drained soil to thrive. Use cactus mix or a custom potting medium with generous amounts of small pea gravel, poultry grit, pumice, or other non-porous materials (avoid using a lot of sand as the particle size tends to be small and will fill pore spaces more readily than other materials) and a container with large drainage holes. Unglazed pottery is best to allow for better evaporation of excess moisture. The ideal indoor location is usually a south-facing window, but eastern or western exposures are acceptable, too. Too much direct sunlight can cause the leaves to turn yellow or red at the tips – which some people prefer – or may even burn the leaves. It may require some experimentation with locations to find the right spot for optimal growth. Potted plants can be moved outside for the growing season after all danger of frost has passed. Gradually acclimate the plant to the new conditions; the leaves are likely to be sunburned if a plant is abruptly moved from inside a house to full sun outdoors. Move back indoors when night temperatures drop below 40F. It may lose some leaves when transitioning to its winter home if it receives less light than where it was outdoors.
Elephant bush responds well to bonsai training techniques.
Although elephant bush is very drought tolerant it grows more quickly and the foliage is lusher with adequate water. Be careful not to overwater, as it is susceptible to root rot in consistently moist soil. Restrict watering in the winter. Unless the indoor environment is unusually bright and warm, withhold water until the lower leaves begin shriveling, which could be several months. Resume watering sparingly once daylength increases in spring, allowing the soil to dry to a depth of an inch before watering again. Fertilize plants in containers monthly during the growing season (or more frequently if pruning a lot to grow a dense plant in a small container). Repot when the plant has filled the container or roots are growing out the drainage holes. This plant has few pests, but mealybugs can be a problem, especially indoors. Like many succulents it does not tolerate some pesticide sprays. Petroleum-based chemicals should be avoided, or test first on a few leaves to be sure the material will not damage the leaves.
Although it can be grown from seed, this plant is most often propagated from cuttings. Stem cuttings are easily rooted within 4 to 6 weeks in any type of potting medium in warm temperatures. Cuttings are best taken in spring or summer, allowing the cut portions to dry and callus for a couple of days before putting in the rooting medium. They may also root in water. Even leaves that are knocked off while pruning or doing other activities may root on their own.
There are several varieties, although most of these are not readily available, other than perhaps from specialty nurseries. It is likely that some mislabeling goes on, so identical plants may be sold under different names. Variegated types tend to be smaller and less robust than the green ones.
- ‘Aurea’ is a compact form with the new leaves a bright yellow in full sun.
- ‘Cork Bark’, selected by a bonsai practitioner, is prized for bonsai because of its fissured, corky bark.
The leaves of a variegated form.
‘Foliis variegatus’ is a slow growing variegated form well suited to container culture.
- ‘Limpopo’ has much larger leaves. It is the natural form (P. afra forma macrophylla) from the far north of the species’ range.
- ‘Medio-picta’ is a variegated type with green leaves with whitish markings spreading from the center and especially bright red stems.
- ‘Prostrata’ or ‘Low Form’ are low-growing types that works well as a ground cover.
- ‘Variegata’ has a more compact, upright form with white or cream edged, pale green leaves with pink highlights that does not tolerate bright sun as much as the species.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Portulacaria afra f. variegata
Accepted Scientific Name
Portulacaria afra Jacq.
Rainbow Bush, Variegated Elephant Bush, Variegated Elephant Shrub, Variegated Elephant Food
Portulacaria afra ‘Tricolor’
Portulacaria afra f. variegata is a slow-growing, much-branched, succulent shrub, up to 10 feet (3 m) tall, with attractive, reddish-brown stems and glossy green leaves heavily variegated with cream. Leaves are smooth, obovate and up to 0.8 inch (2 cm) long. Stems become interwoven as the plant ages. Flowers are small, star-shaped, lavender-pink and appear in small clusters.
Photo via plant-identification.org
USDA hardiness zones 10a to 11b: from 30 °F (−1.1 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).
How to Grow and Care
Choose a location with indirect sunlight when growing Elephant Bush indoors. Overly bright sunlight can char the leaves and cause them to drop off. Ensure that the container you choose has wide drainage holes. The most common mistake made in succulent plants is watering. They are drought tolerant but do require watering from spring to fall. In winter the plants are dormant and you may suspend watering. Elephant Bush plants in the home interior should not have consistently wet feet. Make sure the pot drains well and do not leave a saucer with water sitting under the container. Fertilize in late winter to early spring with an indoor plant fertilizer diluted by half.
Like most succulents, Elephant Bush is easy to reproduce from cuttings. Take cuttings in spring or summer for the best results. Let the cutting dry out and callous for a couple of days and then plant the cutting in damp gritty soil in a small pot.
Learn more at How to Grow and Care for an Elephant Bush (Portulacaria afra).
Portulacaria afra f. variegata is a variegated form of Portulacaria afra.
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Portulacaria afra ‘Green’ – Elephant Bush, Miniature Jade
Whether you call it Mini Jade or Elephant Bush (Portulacaria afra ‘Green’) (Jacquin): This stemmed succulent is particularly versatile and easy to grow. Plant it outdoors in warm climates and it can grow into a dense, 4′ tall shrub. Keep it indoors in a small pot and it will stay a petite, bonsai plant. It is native to South Africa and Swaziland where it grows on sunny, rocky slopes. It even has a symbiotic relationship with elephants: elephants eat some of the branches and their trampling aids propagation of new shrubs from stem cuttings.
P. afra stands out as an easy to grow plant, even for beginners. It has deep red stems that verge on purple that accent its bright green leaves. Planted outdoors, it grows as a cascading ground cover and eventually mounds upon itself into a shrub up to 4′ tall. Though reluctant to bloom in cultivation, P. afra can sometimes produce clusters of tiny, violet flowers in midsummer.
Despite similar appearance and care needs, P. afra is not closely related to the Jade Plants. It is, however, equally easy to grow indoors. Pick pots and soil with great drainage and place the plant near a sunny window. The stems are easily pruned into your desired form or left to cascade from a container. Water deeply but infrequently, particular during winter dormancy. In warmer months, try your hand at propagating stem cuttings (more info). No elephants required.
Full Portulacaria Guide
The attractive, evergreen succulent can grow to eight feet or more, in its natural enviornment. It has small, circular, fleshy, bright green foliage on reddish-brown stems. The leaves of these plants are edible and have a tart flavor. In its native habitat, the plant is heavily browsed and eaten by elephants, wild game, and tortoises. Elephants eat parts of the plant, and spit out the leaves and seeds, which help to propagate the plant. It produces pink, star-shaped flowers in late winter to early spring, but rarely blooms the southwest desert. The flowers are a good source of nectar for birds and insects. There is a variegated variety with a mixture of cream and green foliage. Use this plant in containers, entryways, or patios. Combine it with other interesting low-water-use plants, or train it as a bonsai. It is native to rocky slopes and dry river valleys of the eastern Cape of South Africa, and north into KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, and the Limpopo Province. This plant grows quickly to form a large thicket of growth in its native habitat.
The Poison Potential of Succulents
Indoor decorating with succulents is a growing trend for numerous reasons. These tiny plants are easy to cultivate; need minimal maintenance; come in a wide array of colors, shapes and sizes; and produce long-lasting flowers — making them perfect for almost any space.
A succulent refers to any plant that stores water in its leaves, stems, or both, which gives the types of plants a bit of a swollen or fleshy appearance.
With the succulent phenomenon showing no sign of slowing, it’s important for veterinarians to be able to tell their clients whether these popular plants are harmful for their pets.
The bottom line: Most succulents won’t harm pets if ingested, but there are a few toxic varieties that pet owners and veterinarians need to be aware of. Make sure your clients are steering clear of these potentially dangerous succulents both inside and outside their homes.
Aloe Vera and True Aloe
Toxicity: Toxic to dogs, cats, and horses (not true aloe)
Probably one of the most popular succulent houseplants in the world, some aloe plants are, in fact, toxic to pets. Saponins and anthraquinones found in aloe vera can cause lethargy, diarrhea, and vomiting (not in horses) if ingested. Anthraquinones, anthracene, and glycosides found in true aloe can cause vomiting and a change in urine color (red).
Example: Pencil Cactus
Toxicity: Toxic to dogs, cats, and horses
Succulents classified under the Euphorbia family are among the more commonly known poisonous succulents. Euphorbias contain an white sap in their leaves that can irritate skin. For humans and animals, coming into contact with the sap can cause a rash. Ingesting this succulent can irritate the mouth and stomach, sometimes causing vomiting.
Also known as: Mother of Millions, Mother-In-Law Plant, Devil’s Backbone, Chandelier Plant
Toxicity: Toxic to dogs and cats
While not dangerous for humans, many Kalanchoes can cause dogs and cats to become ill. If ingested, the animal may show signs of vomiting or diarrhea, and sometimes (rarely) an abnormal heart rhythm.
Also known as: Baby Jade, Dwarf Rubber Plant, Jade Tree, Chinese Rubber Plant, Japanese Rubber Plant
Toxicity: Toxic to dogs, cats, and horses
While the toxic principles of this specific succulent are unknown, ingesting this plant can cause clinical signs such as vomiting, depression, and incoordination in animals.
Also known as: Chinese Jade, Silver Jade Plant
Toxicity: Toxic to dogs, cats, and horses
Animals that ingest this succulent may experience vomiting, an upset stomach, and (rarely) tremors, but cats may also show signs of drunkenness after ingestion.
If clients are wondering about succulents that are nontoxic to their furry friends, you can recommend this sampling:
- Blue Echeveria
- Burro’s Tail — also known as Horse’s Tail, Donkey’s Tail, Lamb’s Tail
- Ghost Plant — also known as Mother of Pearl
- Hardy Baby Tears
- Hens and Chickens — also known as Chickens and Hens, Mother Hens, Chicks
- Maroon Chenille Plant
- Mexican Firecracker
- Mexican Rosettes
- Mexican Snowballs
- Painted Lady — also known as Copper Rose, Maroon
- Plush Plant
- Tree Cactus
- Wax Rosette
Growing Elephant Bush Indoors: How To Care For Elephant Bush Houseplants
Elephants eat it, but you need not fear for your Portulacaria unless you have a pet pachyderm. The plant is a succulent with fleshy, glossy leaves that grows as a small bush. They are only hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. Elephant bush houseplants (Portulacaria afra) thrive in bright light in a warm, draft free room. A few rules on how to care for elephant bush will help you grow a specimen of interest that may be a stand-alone plant or part of an intricate succulent garden.
Elephant Bush Succulents
Elephant bush plant may get 6- to 20-feet tall in habitat where it is a favorite food of elephants. In the home interior, it is much more likely to remain just a few feet tall. The bush has thick succulent brown stems with small tender green leaves that resemble a diminutive jade plant.
The home interior is an excellent place to grow elephant bush houseplants. Portulacaria care requires warm temperatures and bright light. After a dormant period in winter, the bush produces small pink flowers grouped in clusters at the ends of the branches.
Growing Elephant Bush Houseplants
These succulents need well drained soil and an unglazed pot that will help excess moisture evaporate. The best mixture for this type of plant is cactus soil or potting soil cut by half with sand, vermiculite or pumice.
Choose a location with indirect sunlight when growing elephant bush indoors. Overly bright sunlight can char the leaves and cause them to drop off.
Ensure that the container you choose has wide drainage holes.
Elephant bush succulents work well as part of a succulent display with plants that require similar care and situations.
How to Care for Elephant Bush
Portulacaria care is similar to other succulent plants. If planted outdoors in warm climates, dig in 3 inches of sand or gritty material to provide well drained soil.
Watch for pests like whitefly, spider mites and mealybugs.
The most common mistake made in succulent plants is watering. They are drought tolerant but do require watering from April to October. In winter the plants are dormant and you may suspend watering. Elephant bush succulents in the home interior should not have consistently wet feet. Make sure the pot drains well and don’t leave a saucer with water sitting under the container.
Fertilize in late winter to early spring with an indoor plant fertilizer diluted by half.
Propagation of Elephant Bush Succulents
Like most succulents, elephant bush is easy to reproduce from cuttings. Take cuttings in spring or summer for best results. Let the cutting dry out and callous for a couple of days and then plant the cutting in damp gritty soil in a small pot.
Place the cutting in a moderately lit area where temperatures are at least 65 F. (18 C.). Keep the soil lightly moist and in a few weeks the cutting will root and you will have a new elephant bush succulent to share with a friend or add to your collection.
Elephant Bush or Portulacaria afra (pronounced por-tew-luh-KAR-ee-uh AF-ruh) is a bushy succulent shrub belonging to the Didiereaceae family.
In its native habitat in the eastern part of South Africa and the Limpopo Province from the Eastern Cape northward it’s found growing in dry, rocky slopes.
At first sight, many often think ‘afra’ is a mini Crassula ovata (dwarf jade plant) because of their similar appearance.
This plant is commonly known as:
- Elephant Bush
- Dwarf Jade Plant
- Elephant food
… and comes in miniature and variegated variety as well.
The variegated Portulacaria afra ‘variegata’ is called the – Rainbow bush.
Elephant Bush Plant Care
Size and Growth
Elephant Food Plant prefers growing in dry, rocky slopes and outcrops.
The reddish-brown stems grow upward reaching up to be 8’ to 15’ feet tall.
However, it is most likely to remain a smaller plant growing only a few feet tall.
This plant is hardy to grow in USDA zones 9-11.
Flowers and Fragrance
The elephant bush succulent is characterized by a brownish-red stem sprouting with small, glossy green leaves.
It is rare for Elephant Portulacaria to bloom in cultivation.
However, when they get the proper growing conditions, they will produce flowers in clusters and in shades of white, pink or purple.
Light and Temperature
Elephant bush portulacaria afra requires plenty of bright light and a warm environment to grow and thrive.
Plant in full sun or partial shade.
However, if plants are moved from indoors to direct sunlight the leaves will burn and shed.
This is why filtered or partially shaded bright light is ideal.
Rainbow Elephant Bush can handle mild frost and cold temperatures to 25° degrees Fahrenheit for a short period of time.
If you live in a climate with freezing winter temperatures, it’s best to grow Afra in a container so the plant can move indoors during the colder months.
Watering and Feeding
As a drought tolerant plant, Elephant succulent doesn’t need lots of water to survive. It adapts to dry and hot conditions.
They generally thrive when given regular waterings.
As a rule of thumb, they need more water in the summer months when it’s hotter and drier as opposed to cooler winter months.
Wait for the top layer of soil to dry out a little before watering again to ensure you’re not overwatering the plant.
Feed plants in the early spring or late winter with a diluted indoor plant fertilizer at 50% strength.
Potting Soil and Transplanting
Trailing Elephant bush can grow with very little soil. Their thick stems and succulents leaves make the plants top heavy.
When planting plants may need a rock or stake to help stabilize them until they become well established.
This plant needs well-draining potting soil such as a cactus mix or sandy soil.
Adding additional perlite for extra drainage also helps and pots need drainage holes.
Do not allow the soil to get waterlogged as overwatering easily can damage the plant.
Repot every two years or so to ensure the plant is getting sufficient soil nutrients.
Ensure that the potting mix in the new container is fresh so the plant’s nutrient supply is replenished accordingly.
Elephant Bush Propagation
Propagate Elephant Bush easily using stem cuttings.
Remove a stem from the plant using a sterile razor knife or sharp pair of scissors.
Once the cut dries for several days, place it in a potting mix of well-drained cactus soil.
While the plant is taking root (4-6 weeks), take care to keep it out of direct sunlight and ensure that you are keeping the soil moist when it starts to go dry.
It should take about four to six weeks for plants to fully take root and start developing new growth.
Elephant Bush Pest or Disease Problems
This plant is susceptible to mealy bugs that appear as small, cottony spots on the green leaves.
Get rid of these by wiping it down with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.
Other pests to look out for are spider mites and whitefly.
Other problems with Elephant Bush include leaf dropping and leaf yellowing.
The former is caused by over or under watering.
Keep an eye on the soil to ensure that you are not letting your plant stand in water.
Also, make sure that you don’t completely dry out the soil so that the plant is left starving for moisture.
Elephant Bush Portulacaria Afra Uses
The Elephant jade plant has several ways to show off its interesting features.
- Growing as a succulent hanging basket on a patio
- Potted as a miniature jade or small tree in a bonsai pot
- Planted with others in a succulent garden
In addition to being a pleasing ornamental plant, Elephant Bush has a number of uses.
The plant is known to absorb carbon in the air which is why it has gleaned a reputation for being a carbon-sponge plant.
It is also used to feed elephants, hence the name ‘elephant food’ but tortoises, and goats also feed on it.
Because of the plant’s sour taste when consumed, in some parts of South Africa, it is used as an ingredient in salads and stew.