For a couple of years, I worked with a local gift shop run by some amazingly talented women. I planted up nice pots and containers with succulents which sold in the shop and they took a commission from each sale. It worked very well for me except one small drawback, which was that I couldn’t be there to look after the plants until they sold which meant I had to rely using succulents with a very long shelf life that could hold their own. What was sad about this is that I couldn’t sell interesting but higher maintenence succulents like Portularcaria afra. What I really enjoy as a succulent blogger is being able to work with and talk about succulents like this and raise the profile of some of the lesser known succulents.
Native to South Africa, Portularcaria afra grows into an attractive shrub when in the ground, and is a favourite snack for hungry elephants. In the home, it makes for a good bonsai plant as it can cope with pruning. There are two cultivars available, one a with darker green leaves and another with varigated pale green leaves, Portularcaria afra ‘Variegata’.
Common name: Elephant Bush Plant
Distinctive features: Red brown fleshy steams bearing flat green, sometimes variegated, leaves. Usually it has a more branching habit, giving it a lower overall profile as a pot plant. Small purple flowers – although these are not commonly seen in the UK.
Why I love it: I think the variegated cultivar is particuarly pretty. In strong sunlight the tips of these yellow-green leaves develop a pink hue. Combined with the red-brown stems, this succulent is colourful and lush.
Things to watch out for: I have found this succulent quite tricky in the past – it is a bit like Goldilocks in it’s watering and light level requirements. Too little water will lead to leaf drop, too much will lead to leaf drop. Not enough sun can also lead to leaf drop, but it can scorch in very strong sunlight. The plus side is that it does make it obvious when it is under stress (clue leaf drop!), giving you a chance to improve it’s environment. You can also prune it if you feel you need to, and if you really do need to start again, a small cutting will root easily when given enough light.
So there you have it – or Portularcaria afra or Elephant Bush Plant. In my opinion a unique plant and a must have for any succulent collection. Hopefully if I keep treating it right, I will have a nice large plant to enjoy – hell I may even get it to flower one day!
Please do give this post a shout on social media to any other budding succulent fans out there: