What Is an Elephant Bush Plant?

 What Is an Elephant Bush Plant?

Elephant bush (Portulacaria afra) is a dense, slow-growing succulent native to South Africa. As a succulent shrub, elephant bush is drought-tolerant and prefers dry, sunny areas.

Elephant bush gets its name from the fact that it is the favorite food of elephants. Other common nicknames include pork bush, spike arm, elephant food, and dwarf jade (although not closely related to the jade plant).

Elephant bush is a versatile succulent that can be grown to complement many different aesthetics. Its leafy, trailing stems make it a good choice for hanging baskets. Due to their tree-like growth habit, they also make a relatively easy bonsai.

Although this plant rarely blooms when grown as an indoor plant, it can produce clusters of star-shaped pink or white flowers under ideal growing conditions.

Elephant Bush Care

The elephant bush is a reasonably simple houseplant to take care of because it is a succulent. It thrives with little neglect compared to other houseplants. As with most plants, the key to caring for elephant bush plants is to make sure you know their water, soil, light and temperature needs.

Like most succulents, you don't need to water the elephant bush often, although this plant likes a little more water than many other succulents. Water your elephant bush only when the soil is completely dry. If you pay attention, your plant will tell you when it's thirsty: look for wrinkled leaves.

When the soil dries, soak it well with room temperature water. Use either a bottom watering can or a long-mouthed juicer bottle to avoid getting water on the leaves.

Also remember that as with all succulents, they are always better submerged than underwater. It is easier to repot an overwatered plant than one that is overwatered.

Succulents naturally store water in their leaves or stems so they can survive in conditions where water is scarce, so they can withstand thirst. Overwatering can cause root rot or damage to water storage cells. Both can kill the plant.


Like other succulents, elephant bush needs well-drained soil. If you use a regular potting mix, make sure the soil has plenty of drainage, such as perlite, pea gravel, pumice or chicken gravel. Mix the drainage medium with the potting soil in a 1:1 ratio.

If you use commercial succulent or cactus soil, such as the popular Miracle Grow cactus mix, you should still add more perlite or another type of gravel for drainage, because these commercial succulent mixes are too dense for succulents, and hold more water.

Using soil that contains plenty of moisture is a surefire way to overwater your succulents, even if you're careful not to water them too often.


Elephant bush plants require plenty of bright light to thrive. They need at least six hours of bright but indirect light daily. If it gets too much direct, full sun, the tips of its leaves may burn or turn yellow. On the other hand, if they get too much shade and not enough sunlight, they may start to sag and become leggy.


Regular room temperature is suitable for elephant boxes. They thrive in daytime temperatures between 65-80°F (18-27°C). They can handle nighttime temperatures of 50-55°F (10-13°C). This plant can be sensitive to extreme temperature fluctuations, so it is best to keep it away from dry areas and heat vents.

In most areas, elephant bushes can only be kept indoors as houseplants, but they can be grown in USDA zones 10 and 11 (or the equivalent in countries other than the United States).

Propagating an Elephant Bush

Like many other succulents, elephant bushes are easy to propagate to expand your plant collection. Elephant bush is a succulent plant that is easy to propagate via stem cuttings.

To propagate from stem cuttings, cut a healthy stem from an elephant bush using clean, sterilized shears. Leave the callus stem to dry for a few days.

Once you have allowed the stem to form a callus, simply stick it into a small pot of soil to uproot it. Optionally, you can apply a rooting hormone to the tip of the stem before placing it in the soil to make it root more quickly.

You may also be able to propagate a new elephant bush from fallen leaves, although I've had no luck that way. If a couple of leaves fall off your current plant on their own, it may be worth trying to propagate new plants, but when stem cuttings have a high success rate, I recommend using the leaves for propagation, and I won't remove them.

Different types of elephant bush

The standard elephant bush, Portulacaria afra, has solid green leaves. This is the most common type of plant you will encounter. There are also two different types that are easier to find if you look, and a bit more exotic.

These varieties display interestingly patterned leaves and may be smaller and less vigorous than the standard green variety.

Rainbow Elephant Bush

The most common type is Portulacaria afra 'Variegata' or more commonly called 'rainbow elephant bush' or simply 'rainbow bush'. This variety has white and light cream green leaves. They have a light green vertical stripe running up and down the center of each leaf, with a creamy white color on the edges.

It may also have a slight pink color along the edges of its leaves and pink stems. Because its leaves contain less chlorophyll, it may grow more slowly than the common dark green variety.

Mid-stripe Rainbow Elephant Bush

Another group of elephant shrubs is the medium-striped rainbow elephant bush, Portolacaria afra 'medio-picta' (or "medium-striped elephant bush" or "inverted variegated elephant bush.") This variety of variegated elephant bush is very common. He is. Like the rainbow elephant bush, but its leaves are the opposite color.

For the middle variety, the center of the leaf is creamy white, while the outer edges are green. This variety tends to have particularly bright pink or red stems.

Interesting facts about elephant bushes

Let's take a look at some interesting facts about this wonderful plant.

Elephant bush vs jade. Another type of succulent elephant shrub is often called "dwarf jade" because of its resemblance to the jade plant (Crassula ovata). Despite their similar appearance, these two succulents are not related and are completely different plants.

Pet and animal friendly. Unlike jade plants (Crassula ovata), elephant bushes are completely non-toxic and safe for pets including cats, dogs, and other animals. In fact, they are a favorite food source for African elephants and tortoises!

A Culinary Delight. It's not just elephants that enjoy snacking on this succulent plant. In some southern African countries, elephant bush leaves are used to add a sour and crunchy taste to salads and soups. It is even sometimes used as a medicine for various minor ailments.

Bonsai bonanza. Although not technically a tree, elephant bushes can be used to create bonsai due to their woody stems and tree-like growth habit.
Carbon sponge. The elephant bush is an excellent “carbon sponge,” capable of removing large amounts of carbon from the air. They are so effective at carbon sequestration that they can remove more carbon than an equivalent amount of deciduous forest.

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