Understand The Africa-native Rainbow Elephant Bush Succulent ‘Portulacaria Afra Variegata’

rainbow elephant bush

The Rainbow Elephant Bush, native to Africa, is fairly easy to care for and makes fantastic houseplants. Since elephants like to eat this plant, it was named after them. It is also known as the variegated elephant bush and Rainbow Portulacaria plant, and by its botanical name.

Rainbow Elephant Bush has green leaves and a reddish stem. It grows up to 8 to 15 feet and is semi-evergreen. It is often compared to Jade Plant because of its similar appearance, but Portulacaria Afra is sturdier and grows faster. The plant is usually cultivated to be a bonsai, but it is also a food source in some parts.

The Rainbow Elephant Bush is used in soups and salads in Africa’s southern parts. It is also used to feed livestock during droughts when there is a water shortage. It has been used medicinally, especially in skin treatments. This plant is an important part of traditional medicine in its native place.

By Dinkum – Own work, CC0, Wikimedia

Does it Grow Indoors or Outdoors?

Rainbow Elephant Bush is a succulent that best grows in warm weather. In the wild, it can grow both horizontally as well as vertically. For this reason, it should be grown indoors; otherwise, it can grow rather large. Most people who grow Rainbow Elephant Bush prefer to grow it in smaller containers to control how large it grows. The growth is usually slow, and it should be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones of 10 and 11.

“Prostrata” decumbent variety – By Frank Vincentz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

Rainbow Elephant Bush Care

Rainbow Elephant Bush is usually grown indoors since it can grow laterally and hence take up a lot of space. They are best as a potted plant and should not be grown in a garden where they can reach great heights.

Since the plant thrives in the sun, they require a lot of sunlight to grow. If you’re growing the plant indoors, make sure that you place it close to a window where it can receive maximum light.

This plant needs over 5 hours of sunlight to grow properly, making sure that it can get the required time. If you live in a place without much sunlight, you will need to invest in a grow light. A grow light will also be helpful during the winter months, when the daylight may not be enough for your plant.

#1. Sunlight Requirements for Rainbow Elephant Bush

Since Rainbow Elephant Bush loves sunlight, they can be placed in areas with full sun or even in places with partial sunlight. They may require acclimatization to full sun if they haven’t learned to tolerate it, and may even get sunburned.

If the plant is not used to receiving full sunlight, you will need to gradually increase the amount it needs, day by day, before you can place it outside. In case there is a heatwave, you will need to protect your plant with sunshades so that it does not get sunburned.

Since this plant likes warm weather, it does not do well in freezing temperatures. It may tolerate mild frost, but it will need to be brought indoors if you live in an area with rough winters. You can also use a frost cloth if you intend to keep the plant outdoors.

#2. Soil Requirements for Rainbow Elephant Bush

Rainbow Elephant Bush needs well-draining soil if you want the plant to thrive. There are several potting mixes available in the market that are suitable for growing succulents. You also have the option of adding sandy soil or perlite to your mix if the plant needs more drainage.

#3. Watering Requirements for Rainbow Elephant Bush

Like most succulents, watering Rainbow Elephant Bush depends upon the weather of the area you live in. Since they are native to areas that are dry and face droughts, they are fairly adapted to thrive in similar conditions. That said, you will still need to water them every 7 to 10 days, even if you’re in a hot and dry area. If the weather is cooler, watering them every 10 to 15 days should be enough.

In humid locations, Rainbow Elephant Bush will not need much watering. Once every 2 or 3 weeks is enough, especially if the plant is being grown indoors. If it’s rainy, you will not need to water the plant at all.

It is also important to keep the moisture in the soil in mind while watering. Only water the plant if the top layer of soil looks dry.

How To Propagate Rainbow Elephant Bush

The easiest way to propagate your Rainbow Elephant Bush is through stem cuttings. They can also be propagated through roots and leaf cuttings, but both methods require more time and effort.

To propagate Rainbow Elephant Bush through stem cutting, you will need to make sure that the stem has dried before you plant it in a pot. To speed up the propagating, you can use a rooting hormone. The stem should be kept away from direct sunlight and can be watered if the soil starts to feel dry. The roots develop at around 2 weeks and should show new growth on top by week 6.

Pests on Your Plant

Rainbow Elephant Bush is susceptible to some pests such as scale moths and whiteflies. They are vulnerable to fungus and other pests, including spider mites, mealy bugs, and fungus gnat larvae. If your bush is infected, it will lose leaves at a rapid pace. If you want to prevent your plant from getting infected, provide it with proper care and use pest control products on it.


Rainbow Elephant Bush is an edible plant and is consumed by animals, especially elephants. They show no signs of toxicity to either animals or humans. If you do have pets in your homes, such as cats or dogs, they should face no harm even if they consume the plant.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Posted in Succulents