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Scientific: Portulacaria afra
Common: elephant plant, small leaf jade, dwarf jade, pork bush, purslane tree
Family: Portulacaeae
Origin: Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa

Pronounciation: Por-tu-la-CAR-ee-a AF-ra

Hardiness zones
8, 9, 12-24
USDA 9-11

Landscape Use: Accent shrub, container plant, entryways, elevated wall planters. This is definitely a succulent shrub for use in intimate landscape spaces of close visual proximity in most any Phoenix landscape design type. Elephant plant can be grown is a myriad of ways, even as a container bonsai.

Form & Character: Highly variable in form ranging from stiffly upright and columnar to prostrate and spreading, succulent, simultaneously tough, juicy and tender, informal.

Growth Habit: Evergreen, herbaceous succulent perennial shrub, growth rate highly dependent on cultivated selection, ranging in height from 18 inches to 12 feet with a greater or lesser spread. Like many succulents, elephant plant uses crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) to fix CO2.

Foliage/Texture: Leaves are small, rounded, succulent, and nearly sessile on thick brittle fleshy and often reddish-colored stems; medium fine texture.

Flowers & Fruits: Numerous, small pink flowers on terminal spikes in late spring to early summer. Flowering is promoted by environmental and/or cultural stresses such as poor nutrition or being 'pot bound' when growing in containers.

Seasonal Color: Generally none, except when flowering and the viewer is in close proximity to the plant.

Temperature: Heat loving, freeze sensitive. Will need winter protection in freeze prone areas of Phoenix.

Light: Partial shade to full sun in Phoenix is best. Full shade causes 'spindly' and weak growth.

Soil: Tolerant, but does best in a light, well-drained soil.

Watering: In Phoenix, elephant plant needs irrigating weekly during the summer, particularly if grown in a container. Otherwise, during the cooler times of year irrigating elephant plant is not necessary.

Pruning: Pruning requirements of elephant plant are absolutely minimal. Rare selective reduction pruning and some heading to control spread is all that is needed.

Propagation: Stem cuttings (easy)

Disease and Pests: Fungal root rot if soil is chronically wet, scale, mealy bugs (especially indoors and in greenhouses)......and rabbits, javelina, and other 'urban herbivores' will feast on elephant plant growing in outdoor landscapes, especially when Phoenix weather has been hot and dry for prolonged periods and water is a sought after commodity.

Additional comments: Elephant plant is a surprisingly tough, reliable, and serviceable succulent shrub when planted in the right spot. Leaves are edible. I am always amazed at how well it grows under a myriad of site conditions in Phoenix. Its only real weaknesses are freezing temperatures and 'urban herbivores'.

There are several cultivated selections:

A final note: Yes, elephants do munch on this succulent plant amongst other things!