Portulacaria afra

The Oddly Named Elephants Food

Rubbery stems with tiny chubby leaves are this plants trademarks.  Sometimes seen in a plain green but equally as engaging in the variegated form, these are often grown as houseplants for warm and bright areas.

Portulacaria afra


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Over time, the stems can extend over the sides of a hanging planter, making a lovely draping silhouette.

For care, these are the most amenable of plants; they like the occasional deep drink, but to dry out between times.  Bright light, either fluorescent tubes for the winter, or a sheer curtained window offer the best situation for Elephants Food.

Portulacaria afra, The Elephants Food

Easy to root from stem cuttings, which can be simply stripped of the few leaves on the bottom of a four inch or so stem (10cm) and stuck into the most well drained of soils, they will root in a few weeks. 

A clump of them in the center of a hanging pot can make a nice bushy display in a few months.

So where did Portulacaria afra get its funny common name of Elephants Food?  In Africa where this plant originates, the climate is dry and sunny, the perfect environment for it, and elephants. 

If you think of how elephants would eat this, they grab it with their trunk and snap off the fleshy stems - I would imagine that the roots would be incredibly sturdy to prevent it being uprooted completely. 

Over time, the growth would be dense and compact after all the browsing it's endured.  In conditions as a house plant, the pruning would have to be done by us to get it nice and full.

Try to protect from elephants to allow the plant to grow a bit, and then prune to shape.

See more Portulacaria afra (both the green and variegated kinds) here...

More information and questions below

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