Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush” – Growth, Care, Propagation & FAQs

Portulacaria Afra “elephant bush” resembles crassula ovata in a lot of ways but they are not related. Their appearance, shape of trunk, leaves, and stem almost resembles, but the Elephant plant/dwarf jade plant is different from the jade plant. It is a perennial succulent shrub from South Africa.

Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush”

  • Elephant bush
  • Elephant plant
  • Dwarf jade
  • Mini jade
  • Miniature jade
  • Small leaf plant
  • Dwarf jade plant
  • Porkbush
  • Elephant feed plant
  • Trailing elephant bush
  • Crassula Afra
  • Portulacaria Afra

Scientific classification of elephant bush plant

Family: portulacaceae

Sub-family: portulacarioideae

Genus: Portulacaria  

Complete Guide on Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush”

Where does Portulacaria Afra variegata“elephant bush” found?

Mini jade is native to South Africa. It is found in rocky outcrops and slopes form the little karoo in the western cape to the eastern cape northwards into KwaZulu-Switzerland, Mpumalanga and Limpopo province and further North into Mozambique.

 The appearance of Portulacaria Afra “dwarf jade plant” 

Mini jade is an attractive succulent shrub or small tree, elephant feed plant can reach up to 2-4 in height, and in some circumstances, it can grow into a huge 10-20 tall where it is a favourite food for elephants hence, called elephant’s food.

NOTE: elephant bush succulent can grow to a few feet tall indoors.

 Leaves and shape of Portulacaria Afra Variegata“dwarf jade plant” 

Elephant jade plant has thick, dark green leaves and very delicate star-shaped pink flowers, the trunk and branches have woody inner tissues.

We can simply say that elephant’s food has brownish-red stem sprouting with small, glossy green leaves.

 Hardiness:  USDA plants hardiness zone 9, 10 and 11, when the dwarf is matured, it can tolerate mild frosts.

Rainbow elephant bush like all succulents are easy to grow in most conditions, they grow upright horizontally.

Later your elephant jade plant can spread out and sprawl or hang. This ability makes them a valuable choice for a hanging basket.

“Dwarf jade has glossy green leaves and reddish-brown stems. Its foliage is a good food source in native cultures.

 Does the Elephant food plant has any type? 

Dwarf jade has few types, one of the most commonly available in cultivation is Portulacaria Afra “variegate pro”. Variegated elephant or rainbow is like Portulacaria Afra in many ways.

The qualities and features are similar but Portulacaria Afra “Variegata” has green stripes and an attractive hue of variegated cream.

Trailing elephant bush” tree’s attributes

Dwarf Jade is fleshy wooded succulent and its trunk is green when it is young however, turns in to a beautiful reddish-brown as it ages.

Min jade’s leaves are thick and heavy because of moisture retention, these leaves are small and round.

Small blossoms will only bloom in the winter when the plant senses some changes in the sunlight.

How to plant a Portulacaria Afra Variegata “miniature jade/speckboom”

  • Dig a hole, like the size, width, and depth of a standard spade
  • Sprinkle few pinches of compost in the hole.
  • Remove the outer wrap with care and place your elephant jade plant/tree
  • Fill the hole with your desired potting mixture, or sand, sprinkle water with love and care.

Before jumping to our main guide, let give you a list of our must-read articles:

How to grow & care Portulacaria Afra” elephant bush succulent /dwarf jade plant”

If you want to grow healthy and tall succulent, you should take good care of it.

There are some steps which you must follow.

  • Sunlight need
  • Soil need and fertilization
  • Watering need
  • Frost tolerance
  • Propagation

Sunlight requirement 

Portulacaria Afra “Elephant Bush” outdoor sunlight

Elephant bush succulents will thrive in the sunlight like all other succulents, it needs bright indirect light for the better part of the day.

The dwarf jade plant can handle the heat, but it doesn’t mean you left it under the scorching sun. Your succulent’s leaves might get sunburns.

Indoor lighting for dwarf jade

  • Elephant’s food can easily grow indoors, but you must give it proper sunlight.
  • A south-facing window will do just fine, 4-6 hours of daylight is ideal for this jade plant.
  • Again, don’t leave it under scorching sunlight.
  • If your south-facing window is not getting enough sunlight, no problem. Face it towards any window, just make sure your plant is getting enough light on leaves and trunk.
  • Don’t worry if your plant is not getting any sunlight in your house or room (most offices don’t receive any daylight). Use a bright desk lamp (supplementary lighting) with “LED” bulbs of higher wattage.

Outdoor sunlight requirements for Portulacaria Afra Variegata “mini jade”

  • Elephant bush succulent loves outside, outdoor conditions are suitable for this plant.
  • Bright filtered sunlight is good for it, they can tolerate partial to full sun, but it doesn’t mean you should leave in under the unmerciful sun.
  • It should be better for you to acclimate the plant to help prevent sunburns.
  • Slowly increase the daylight hours until it is fully acclimated to the sun.
  • Place your rainbow elephant bush “dwarf jade plant” to a place where it can get plenty of morning sun which is less intense. Morning light is also considered most part of the day for plants.
  • Sometimes, dwarf jades can be a little fussy towards afternoon sun, in that case, place it under shade until it is fully used to the afternoon sun.
  • If your elephant jade plant’s leaves are facing sunburns, don’t worry because some leaves will eventually fall off as new leaves grow.
NOTE: even if your porkbush is already acclimated to the sun, it can still get sunburns. Be careful with lighting hours.

Soil need and fertilization

In this section, you will learn about soil formulas and ideas, and how much fertilization does it need.

Soil requirements for Portulacaria Afra

soil and fertilization for portulacaria afra

  • Just like every other succulent, elephant food succulent needs well-draining soil.
  • Cactus potting mix and perlite combination works just fine.
  • 2:1 ratio is a standard without exact measurements. Just trust your eyes.
  • Some people use sandy soil which works very well in most cases. Potting soil with coarse sand (2:1).
  • Remember, your dwarf jade succulent will thrive in neutral soil (PH LEVEL).
  • Types of soil will be loam and sand.


Fertilizer requirements for “elephant bush succulent”

  • If your dwarf jade’s leaves are turning yellow and you have taken care of the sun, lack of nutrients could be the reason.
  • If you haven’t repotted your plant for years, the nutrients within pot may have depleted.
  • The draining of nutrients within soil over the years is normal. You are washing and watering your plants regularly.
  • Especially in the growing season, the nutrients may drain out with the water from the potholes.
  • It is up to you whether you choose to repot or feed your elephant bush succulent with a fertilizer.
  • Portulacaria Afra Variegata will need a fresh potting mix if you chose to repot it.
  • If you choose to feed your “elephant food plant/pork bush” with a fertilizer, dilute it to half of its recommended strength.
  • Use specially designed succulents and cacti mix fertilizer.
  • In the growing season, fertilize your porkbush plant once a month.

Recommended Fertilizer – Affiliate link

How to water a Portulacaria Afra “elephant bush”

  • Miniature jade is one of the most drought tolerant succulents.
  • They can survive without water for longer periods.
  • The mini jade watering mainly depends on the condition and climate you live in.
  • Elephant jade plant can adapt drought conditions without breaking a sweat, but they thrive when enough moisture is given.
  • Dwarf jade’s foliage is lusher when adequate water is given.
  • Be careful, don’t water it, dwarf jade’s roots are vulnerable to root rot.
  • Restrict the water in the dormant season (winter and fall), Portulacaria Afra.
  • Restrict the water until the lower leaves begin shriveling, this could take several months.
  • You can water your miniature jade in the winters if your home is unusually bright and warm.
  • Resume the watering in summers and springs. Water your plant deeply once or twice a month(depends on your home conditions and warmth of the climate).
  • water it carefully, you should neither over water it nor underwater it.
  • Use the soak and dry method or 2-inch finger rule.
  • In 2-inch finger rule; place your fingers 2-inch-deep in the soil. If the soil is wet, don’t water it, and if it is dry, you should water it now.
  • In Humid locations, it doesn’t need much water. If you are keeping your succulents indoors, you may not need to water it much especially if it’s not receiving enough sunlight.
  • Most areas don’t receive any rain in the winter. Most people rely on rainwater in the winters. You can water your dwarf jade succulent once if your area is not receiving any rain at all. 
NOTE: Conditions may vary geologically if your plant is doing well without water in the winters then, you should not water it. Succulents are drought tolerant; your plant will be fine either way.

Frost tolerance

In this section, you will learn how much frost your Portulacaria Afra can tolerate and what measures you must take.

How much frost Portulacaria Afra “elephant’s food” can tolerate?

  • Rainbow Elephant bush like all other succulents, can tolerate some level of frost, but not extensive.
  • If you are growing your elephant’s food in USDA hardiness zone 9, 10, and 11, you don’t have anything to worry about. You can leave your succulent outdoors even in the ground all year long. You succulent will be fine.
  • Many people like some of you, live in extreme winter conditions where the freezing temperature is common. In that case, grow your dwarf jade plant in containers.
NOTE: if you can’t bring them in, use greenhouse or frost cloths.

You can move your potted Portulacaria Afra “elephant bush/porkbush” outside after the danger of frost is no more.

Slowly, acclimate the plant to the new conditions; the leaves will be sunburned if a plant is abruptly moved outside from inside of the house.

It is normal, don’t freak out. Move your dwarf jade indoors when the temperature drops below 40F (NIGHT).

During the transitioning, your miniature jade plant is likely to lose some leaves which is completely normal.

Elephant bush dropping leaves

Portulacaria Afra “elephant bush/porkbush” Propagation.

Portulacaria Afra “mini jade succulent” is one of the easiest plants to propagate from stem cutting.

There are two types of elephant bush propagation of elephant bush succulent.

Leaf propagation

In this method, you propagate your elephant jade plant via leaves. You should leave the fallen leaves alone and let them do their thing.

Cut the entire leaf from the base, don’t cut it half or you won’t get the desired results.

Leaf propagation takes more time and it is a bit trickier.

Stem propagation of Portulacaria Afra “elephant bush”

  • Cut about 3 inches of its stem. Most people consider 3-5 inches as ideal, but 2 to 3 inches just works fine for me,
  • Remove the extra branches and extra leaves to ensure a clean cut.
  • Just leave a few clean leaves on the
NOTE: you can use those to remove branches and leaves. Propagate your dwarf jade succulent using those leaves. Place them near your plant.
  • Depending on your location and climate, let the air dry freshly cut stem for 24-48 hours depending on the location’s temperature.
  • Let it callus over.
 After waiting 24-38 hours 
  • Its time to pot your freshly cut stem.
  • Make a hole at the center of your new pot (fresh soil) and place the cutting very carefully.
  • Press the soil around it to secure the plant from falling over, keep it tight, jade succulents as it crowded.
  • Place it in a bright indoor.
  • Direct sunlight at this stage will harm the plant.
 After waiting 2-3 weeks 
  • After two to three weeks, it is time to water your Portulacaria Afra “trailing elephant bush”.
  • Make sure the soil is dry (2-inch finger rule: place your fingers two-inch-deep and check if the soil is dry or wet. If it is dry, water it otherwise don’t).
  • You may water it fully, but the spray will be an ideal choice since the root system is kind of shallow at this stage.
  • Misting will do. Mist your rainbow elephant bush as needed.
  • Maintain the moisture at this stage, by doing this, roots won’t dry out and it will help the roots to grow.
  • Don’t overwater it, Portulacaria Afra like other succulents are prone to root rot.
  • Do this until the roots arple enty and strong enough.
 After waiting 7-8 weeks 
  • Take out the plant from the pot, wash it cleanly and carefully.
  • You will see a healthy root system; it will grow some new roots.
  • By that time, you may expose your Portulacaria Afra to the direct sunlight.
  • 2-4 hours of sunlight for 2 weeks will be enough.
  • Increase it over time.
  • If the location of your plant is not getting enough sunlight, use desk lamps with “LED” bulbs of high wattage.

Your baby elephant bush is now set to the surroundings and it will grow into a beautiful mature Potulacaria Afra.

Congratulation, you have grown a baby to an adult

What are the common problems relating to trailing elephant bush?

There are many problems with succulents, but if we precisely talk about Portulacaria Afra, there are two main problems. Dropping of leaves and yellow color of leaves.

 Dropping of leaves 
  • Commonly, Portulacaria Afra “elephant bush” loses its leaves prematurely because of the watering issues.
  • Overwatering and underwatering, both can cause premature loss of leaves.
  • The dwarf jade plant loses leaves when underwatered or during a drought to conserve its water storage.
  • It enables its survival mode when it is severely short on water.
  • you will know just by its look; the leaves will have a wrinkled and dull appearance along with the dropped leaves.
  • Touch your elephant food, its leaves will feel wrinkly and flat, it’s a sign of underwatering.
  • If you notice these things in your elephant food, give your plant enough water.

Don’t overwater it, just give it a good drink and let it dry out. Check the soil if it is dry or not, then spray some water on it again. your plant will be healthy in no time.

  • Don’t try to compensate, don’t water it again and again, let the soil completely dry out.

Many people try to overcompensate which is the downfall of their elephant bush.

  • Overwatering can also cause some problems. Leaves of your elephant food will be soft and mushy in touch with a dim and light color.
  • Your succulent will feel heavier. The wetness of soil will tell you that you have overwatered it.
  • Don’t worry, cut back the water supply, don’t water it in the dormant season (winter and fall).
  • Move your porkbush to a sunny location, leave it there for extended hours, it will evaporate the excessive water.
 Leaves turning yellow 
  • portulacaria afra “elephant bush’s” leaves turn yellow due to cultural problems; this is the major cause.
  • Maybe your soil is not draining fast enough and it is too wet for your elephant bush or it is draining fast.
  • Maybe your elephant food is not getting enough nutrients due to fast draining.
  • Your plant may or may not be sitting in the wrong pot (soil).
  • portulacaria afra shows dress due to all the above reasons.
  • Repot it, use fresh soil, don’t water it yet. Let it dry out completely.
  • Nutrients in the container eventually run out after years.

If it is not the case, you need to check the watering levels. Kindly don’t water your porkbush and check if its drainage holes working properly.

Don’t worry about it if things are getting worse, sometimes things can get out of control.

Just repot it, remove the yellow leaves, they are drought tolerant they will survive without the water for some time, so let it dry out completely.

Your leaves will regrow eventually, just take care of your beautiful dwarf jade succulent.

How do I bloom my portulacaria afra “elephant bush/dwarf jade”?

  • Blooming of portulacaria afra is rare, especially when they are growing in containers indoor.
  • It doesn’t mean they can’t bloom; it only means you have to work hard on your elephant’s food to make it bloom.
  • Along with the proper lighting hours, climate and air, give it feed occasionally.
  • During the dormant periods, keep your porkbush dry at all times, with the temperatures below freezing point (-16 to -7 degree Celsius).
  • Using precaution and care, your portulacaria afra will bloom hopefully.
  • They will produce clusters of pinkish-white and purple flowers.

Toxicity of portulacaria afra “dwarf jade plant” towards pets

  • Many succulents are toxic and irritant towards pets but portulacaria afra. It is edible and non-toxic to pets.
  • It is non-toxic to humans also. If your child or any friend eats its leaves by mistake, don’t worry, they won’t get hurt.
  • If you suspect posing (pets), immediately contact the nearby veteran or ASPCA (American Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) animal poison control center at 888-426-4435.
  • You can gather further information on the ASPCA website about different plants and their poisoning nature.

Bonsai care, pruning and notes for portulacaria afra “elephant bush”, “dwarf jade plant”

Portulacaria afra tree is relatively new to bonsai in the west. Dwarf Jade is hardy to droughts and can handle overwatering that is why elephant bush bonsai is popular in the west as it can be grown full year with awesome fleshy and round leaves.

Miniature jade bonsai is a fantastic carbon sequester. It can hold 4-5 times more carbon.


There is no harm to create an outdoor elephant bush bonsai tree, but bonsai trees are best suited indoors.

Along with the many medical and spiritual benefits, indoor bonsai trees are a luxurious home décor item.

Some Important dwarf jade bonsai notes

  • Use detergent water or garden hose for rinsing and cleaning purposes.
  • Don’t use any petrochemicals on your small leaf jade plant.
  • The fungus is one of the most common dwarf jade bonsai problems, it is caused by overwatering.
  • Soft and soggy trunks and branches are signs of overwatering.
  • Immediately place it under bright sunlight and allow it to dry out completely. Sit out for some weeks, survey the situation.
  • If the rot is not stopping, consider removing the old soil and use a coarser dry soil.
  • It is difficult to stabilize dwarf jade’s leaves as bonsai, especially, if you are growing it in a shallow container.
  • Their weight may cause them to fall over even though they use a little soil to grow.
  • Support your elephant food bonsai with rocks or tie the plant in.
  • Protect your Elephant bush bonsai from frost and extreme temperatures. This bonsai succulent is tropical.
  • It is widely considered as a healthy indoor bonsai tree.
  • If you know what jin or Shari is, then never try to create it on dwarf jade bonsai.
  • Any attempt to create jin or Shari on succulent will damage a branch at least or worse, it will set a deadly rot and kill an entire section.
  • You must need fast-draining soil; it will keep the dwarf jade bonsai dry and healthy.
  • Elephant food has fleshy and soggy leaves though, you can wire it. Branches of some succulents like porkbush (portulacaria afra) can be wired.
  • Shaping is best carried out by pinching and pruning however, wiring in the dormant periods is preferable.
  • You need to be careful of wire biting into the branch.

Different styles of trailing elephant bush bonsai tree

Following is the list of many styles:

  • Formal upright bonsai tree
  • Informal upright bonsai tree
  • Slanting
  • Cascade
  • Semi-cascade
  • Twin-trunk
  • Clump
  • Group planting
  • Saikie

Leaf pruning and branch pruning of dwarf jade bonsai tree

  • Early spring is the season when you should carry your early pruning or heavy pruning.
  • porkbush is fast-growing succulents, regular pruning and pinching are advised especially in the growing season.
  • If you need a larger elephant food bonsai tree, regular pinching and pruning must be done.
  • If you need longer and healthier branches, it is advised to let the apex grow.
  • Remove all the leaves from the base of the branch upwards leaving about 3-4 nodes at the apex.

Trimming and pinching of Portulacaria afra bonsai tree

  • During trimming and pinching, don’t remove all the new growth.
  • Trim your dwarf jade by cutting or pinching above a pair of pads.
  • New buds will form within a couple of weeks from the juncture of each of the removed pads.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How much sunlight Portulacaria Afra “dwarf jade plant” need?
It depends on the location and surrounding temperature. If you are growing your portulacaria afra in an area where the climate is hot, it won’t need much, 3-5 hours of sunlight per day should be enough. It needs more sunlight in the winters, 6-7 hours of indirect sunlight is healthy for it.
how much sunlight does a newly propagated portulacaria afra needs?
First, won’t give it any direct sunlight. Keep it indoors for about 7-8 weeks in a bright warm room. After that, you can expose your elephant bush to outdoor lights but for a couple of hours for some weeks. Slowly increase the hours until is fully adapted to the sunlight.
How often should I water my portulacaria afra “dwarf jade plant”, “elephant bush succulent”?
“Elephant bush” is a drought tolerant succulent. Water it once every 2-3 weeks. Let the surface of the soil (2 inches deep) dry out completely before watering it. Either leave it be in the dormant season (winter and fall) or, water it once in a month or so if it is necessary.
Why do the leaves of my elephant keep falling off?
Dwarf jade leaves can drop prematurely due to lack of water or being too wet, lack of nitrogen in the soil, or fewer sunlight hours. Mealybugs attack dwarf jades quite often, remove them by rinsing the plant by hand using paper tower (rub alcohol on it).  let the plant dry out completely, then spray some water. Increase sunlight hours slowly.
How do I take care of my dwarf jade, elephant bush?
Let the soil dry out completely before repotting. Pruning and pinching should be done at this stage. Keep dwarf jade in partial shade until new growth begins. Water it after the soil is dry. Use well-draining soil free of peat.  Now give it 4-5 hours of indirect sunlight (outdoors). Keep it indoors during freezing temperatures. Don’t water it regularly in the dormant season.
Can dwarf jade plant, elephant bush be grown indoors?
Yes. Elephant bush will thrive indoors. South-facing or any window with enough light is needed. Fast draining soil with enough drainage holes is needed. If a home is not receiving enough sunlight, try a desk lamp with “LED” bulbs. A little bit of shade is also not bad. Don’t water it more frequently, once in 2 weeks is enough. Don’t water on the wet soil.
Is elephant feed plant cold hardy?
Elephant food isn’t cold hardy at all. If you leave you it outside in the frost for a couple of nights, you might save it. Bring it back indoors, cut back watering, clean the leaves until it begins to recover. If it is damaged enough, propagate the stems. After stem cutting, don’t water it for 2 weeks and use fresh soil. Keep it indoors for 8 weeks.
Is Portulacaria Afra “elephant bush” toxic to cats or dogs?
No dwarf jade plant is not toxic to pets. According to ASPCA (American Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals), this plant is nontoxic.  If your cat or dog has some bites of its leaves, don’t worry, it won’t hurt them badly. It might cause some throat irritation or diarrhea may be. Call the ASPCA animal poison control center at 888-426-4435 if you see any poisoning symptoms in your pet.
Is Portulacaria Afra “elephant food” edible?
“Elephant feed plant” is a special and environmentally friendly plant with mental and physical benefits. it increases the humidity which is beneficial for coughing and nausea. It sucks all the volatile organic compounds and makes food from it. Dwarf jade succulent releases more oxygen than any ordinary plant. Place it new in your workplace, it will increase your focus according to research.
Why Portulacaria Afra “elephant bush” drop leaves?
Elephant bush loses its leaves prematurely because of the watering issues. Overwatering and underwatering, both can cause premature loss of leaves. It leaves when underwatered or during a drought to conserve its water storage.

Portulacaria Afra enables its survival mode when it is severely short on water. you will know just by its look; the leaves will have a shriveled and flat appearance.

Why the elephant bush is called elephant food?
Elephant bush is the favourite food of elephants. That is why it is called elephant food. It can grow up to 6 feet tall indoors if don’t have any elephants around.


The idea and some part of the data regarding watering is inspired by the following research.

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