Elephant Bush, Miniature Jade, Spekboom, etc.
Portulacaria afra Jacq. is the correct and accepted scientific name for this species. Both the genus and species were named and described as such by Nicolaus (Nicolaas) Joseph von Jacquin in Collectanea in 1787.
Portulacaria afra f. variegata H.Jacobsen was described by Hermann Johannes Heinrich Jacobsen in 1955. Plants of the World Online doesn’t list Portulacaria afra f. variegata as an accepted infraspecific name even though anyone can see it is variegated and not green…
Plants of the World Online by Kew lists 7 species in the Portulacaria genus (as of 2-14-21 when I last updated this page). It is a member of the plant family Didiereaceae with 6 genera. Those numbers could change as updates are made.
THERE ARE A FEW LINKS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE FOR FURTHER READING.
I bought two pots of Portulacaria afra from Lowe’s in Greenville, Mississippi in 2009 while living at the mansion in Leland. #2 was a little smaller and it never did grow near as well as #1.
Family: Didiereaceae (formerly in the Portulacaceae)
Zones: USDA Zones 9a-11 (20 to 40° F)
Size: 4-6’ but much smaller in pots
Light: Sun to light shade
Soil: Fast-draining. Good quality potting soil amended pumice (50/50) or additional perlite and chicken grit (2-1-1).
Water: Regular watering during the growing season, barely in winter.
Propagation: Leaf or stem cuttings
I put the potted plants in the two sunrooms on the first floor (there were 3 more upstairs), the den, kitchen, butlers pantry, and my bedroom during the cooler months. If the day was warm I moved the plants to the 40′ wide front porch.
Portulacaria afra are not hard succulents to grow. They like regular watering during the growing period and not as much during the winter. When I was a succulent newbie the succulents were watered as usual. I lost quite a few succulents because of that, but the Portulacaria afra didn’t seem to mind.
We made it through our first winter together at the mansion. As you can see, #1 was MUCH larger after only one year.
#2 was a different story… Still very small.
I decided to put #1 in a much larger pot. The backyard at the mansion received plenty of sun in the morning and only part of it all day which is where the garden was. This plant really seemed to like the afternoon shade where it was most of the time.
Portulacaria afra is a native to Cape Provinces, Kenya, KwaZulu-Natal, Mozambique, Northern Provinces, and Swaziland in the south and southwest Africa. They like the heat, are drought-tolerant, and can handle cool nighttime temps as long as they don’t get a frost.
They aren’t really that particular about their soil as long as it is well-draining and it must dry between watering. Well, unless it is during a rainy period and they seem to understand.
#1 measured 17″ tall x 28″ wide when the above photo was taken on 8-1-11.
Information online says they flower when they are stressed by heat and drought which I didn’t know until recently. I trimmed this plant once and wound up with a lot of plants because the stem cuttings easily root. I’m not sure why I didn’t take more photos of the other plants. It was weird, though, that the cuttings of this plant always grew very well, while #1 never did. I had several lined up on the wall next to the driveway in full, intense sun and they never flowered either.
I always put #1 in this corner in the east sunroom over the winter and moved it to the front porch if temperatures permitted. It always lost a lot of leaves during the winter but I could hardly tell it. The other Portulacaria afra were on a shelf in the sunroom and in the kitchen.
After I sold the mansion dad wanted me to move back to the family farm in mid-Missouri. I had to give up over 200 pots including this one. I didn’t bring any of the Portulacaria afra with me because I thought I could find one here. I have seen a few but none to my liking. I did bring the Portulacaria afra f. variegata with me but I gave it up with most of the other plants late in the summer of 2014. I am collecting again, of course, but I still don’t have any Portulacaria afra. I will bring a couple home again soon, maybe in 2021…
I hope you enjoyed this page and maybe found it useful. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Please click on “like” if you visited this page. It helps us bloggers stay motivated. 🙂 You can check out the links below for further reading. The links take you directly to the genus and species of this plant.