Plant, Grow, and Care for the Elephant Bush: A Complete Guide

The elephant bush, also known as the miniature jade plant, is a fascinating succulent that has captured the hearts of plant enthusiasts around the world. Despite its name, it is not related to the jade plant at all. It belongs to the Portulacaria family, also known as Purslane. In South Africa, its native land, the elephant bush grows up to an impressive height of 15 feet, earning its name from the elephants that graze on its foliage. Humans also enjoy eating its leaves, which have a sour flavor and are often used in salads.

What makes the elephant bush even more remarkable is its ability to remove carbon from the air. Recent research has shown that it is one of the best houseplants for improving air quality, making it a fantastic addition to any home. With its easy propagation and suitability as a hanging basket plant, the elephant bush is a versatile and low-maintenance choice for indoor gardening.

Quick Care Guide

  • Plant Type: Succulent
  • Exposure: Bright Indirect Light
  • Native Area: South Africa
  • Season: Year-round
  • Watering Needs: Moderate
  • Height: Up to 15 feet
  • Family: Portulacaria
  • Plant Spacing: Depends on the desired size
  • Plant With: Other succulents or drought-tolerant plants
  • Genus: Portulacaria
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Diseases: Root rot, Botrytis, Powdery mildew, Southern blight
  • Species: Portulacaria afra
  • Planting Depth: Shallow
  • Attracts: None in particular
  • Hardiness Zones: 10-11
  • Soil Type: Well-draining cactus potting soil
  • Pests: Whiteflies, Spider mites, Mealybugs

Classification

The elephant bush, scientifically known as Portulacaria afra, is a long-living succulent that belongs to the Portulacaria family. Unlike most succulents, it does not shed its leaves and can live up to 50 years with proper care. Its fleshy green leaves and striking red stems make it an eye-catching addition to any space. While it is commonly grown as a houseplant, it can also thrive outdoors in mild climates.

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Leaf Formation

The leaves of the elephant bush are small, fleshy, and oval to round in shape. They are bright green and occasionally have purple margins. Not only are these leaves visually appealing, but they are also commonly eaten by humans and animals. The trunk of the elephant bush is woody and semi-hard, making the leaves the most commonly consumed part of the plant.

Flowers

Although the elephant bush has the potential to bloom, it is unlikely to do so when grown indoors. It typically only flowers in mild outdoor climates. However, with the right conditions, such as a period of dry weather followed by good rain, the plant can produce clusters of small pink star-shaped flowers in the fall. In its native habitat of South Africa, the elephant bush blooms prolifically, covering the shrubs with a sea of pink flowers.

Propagation

The elephant bush can be easily propagated through stem cuttings or leaf cuttings. Stem cuttings are the recommended method as they ensure a higher success rate and are less stressful for the parent plant. To propagate using stem cuttings, choose a healthy stem with plump leaves and use clean hand shears to clip the cuttings just below a node. Allow the cuttings to dry for a few days before planting them in moist cactus potting soil. It’s important to keep the soil slightly moist but not wet while the cuttings root, which usually takes 1-3 weeks.

While leaf cuttings are also possible, they have a lower success rate and take longer to root. If you’re not in a hurry and want to produce a large number of plants, you can remove some leaves, let them dry for three days, and then plant them in wet soil. The leaves should root within three weeks, giving you small plants for the following year.

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Growing Elephant Bush

The elephant bush is considered an easy houseplant to care for. It doesn’t require intense attention and can thrive with just occasional watering and placement near a sunny window. However, overwatering is the biggest issue to watch out for. Proper drainage is essential, so it’s recommended to use a container with at least one drainage hole to prevent fungus growth. Using a well-draining cactus potting soil is also crucial.

The elephant bush prefers bright, indirect light for most of the day, with a little direct morning sunlight. It can tolerate full sun conditions but may need protection from intense afternoon sun to prevent leaf burn. As for watering, the plant has low to moderate needs. Water it once a week during the hottest months and reduce the frequency to every 10-14 days in spring and fall. In winter, watering can be further reduced to once a month. Remember to check the soil moisture by testing it with your finger. If the soil is dry about half an inch down, it’s time to water. Avoid overwatering, as it can lead to root rot and harm the plant.

The elephant bush prefers a humid environment with around 50% humidity but also thrives in typical household conditions. If the humidity is too low, you can increase it using a pebble tray, a humidifier, or by misting the plant regularly. However, it’s important to note that the plant is not cold-tolerant and should be protected from freezing temperatures. The ideal temperature range for the elephant bush is between 65°F and 80°F.

When it comes to fertilizing, the elephant bush doesn’t require much. During the spring and fall, fertilize it once a month with a low-nitrogen formula diluted to half strength. Avoid over-fertilizing, as it can lead to salt buildup and leaf scorch. Regular pruning is necessary to maintain the shape and size of the plant. Prune at the end of spring to allow the plant to recover during its growing season. Remove any branches that cross the interior of the plant to prevent leaf damage and create a favorable environment for pests and diseases.

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The elephant bush is non-toxic, making it safe for pets and children. It’s a great choice for those who want to enjoy the beauty of plants without worrying about potential harm. There are also several varieties of elephant bush available, each with its unique characteristics and growth habits. Some popular varieties include Minima, Variegata, Decumbent, and Medio-picta.

Pests and diseases are generally not a major concern for the elephant bush. However, it’s important to inspect new plants before bringing them home to prevent any infestations. Common pests that may affect the plant include whiteflies, spider mites, and mealybugs. Diseases such as root rot, Botrytis, powdery mildew, and Southern blight can occur if the environment is too damp. Providing proper care and maintaining a healthy environment are the best ways to prevent these issues.

In conclusion, the elephant bush is a beautiful and easy-to-care-for houseplant. With its striking appearance, low-maintenance nature, and air-purifying qualities, it’s no wonder why it has become a favorite among plant lovers. By following the care guidelines and providing the right conditions, you can enjoy the beauty of this remarkable succulent for years to come.

Elephant Bush

Elephant Bush Leaves

Elephant Bush Flowers

Elephant Bush

Elephant Bush

Elephant Bush

Elephant Bush

Elephant Bush

Elephant Bush

Elephant Bush Pruning

Elephant Bush

Elephant Bush Varieties

Elephant Bush Varieties

Elephant Bush Varieties

Elephant Bush Varieties

Elephant Bush Pests and Diseases

Elephant Bush Pests and Diseases

Elephant Bush Pests and Diseases

Elephant Bush Pests and Diseases

Elephant Bush Pests and Diseases

Elephant Bush Pests and Diseases

Elephant Bush Pests and Diseases

For more information about the elephant bush and to find quality plants, visit the Ames Farm Center. Happy gardening!