Rainbow Elephant Bush
Portulacaria afra f. variegata
por-tew-luh-KAR-ee-uh AF-ra var-ee-GAY-tuh
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 brought this Portulacaria afra f. variegata home from Lowe’s in Greenville, Mississippi in August 2012. I was living at the mansion in Leland at the time and was collecting a lot of plants.
Portulacaria afra are 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 like the extra rain then.
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 with pumice (50/50) or additional perlite and chicken grit (2-1-1).
Water: Regular watering during the growing season, barely in winter.
Propagation: Stem cuttings.
I brought this plant with me when I moved from the mansion in Mississippi to the family farm in mid-Missouri in February 2013.
Portulacaria afra is not particularly picky about soil as long as it is well-drained. I always grew my cactus and succulents in Miracle Grow or Schultz Potting soil amended with a little extra perlite and pumice (2-1-1). Many cactus and succulent growers suggested pumice over perlite so I started using a 50/50 mix of potting soil and pumice in the fall of 2018. I re-pot whenever plants need it, but I mainly do it during the fall and winter because the peat in the potting soil gets hard when you withhold water during that time of the year when you stop watering as often. Re-potting in the fall allows plants to have a nice loose and airy mix over the winter.
Well, it has been about five years since the above photo was taken and when I am writing this page. I don’t remember what happened to this plant but maybe someday I will bring home another one. I have seen small plants several times but I just haven’t brought one home yet… I can always make room. 🙂
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.