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, and also fed 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.

Types of Portucaria Afra

  1. Trailing Elephant Bush: This, as the name suggests, has vines and beautiful green foliage. The botanical name of the plant is Portulacaria Afra Prostrata. It has relatively thick stems, and the foliage its foliage is quite bushy, making it quite suitable for ground cover. However, the best way to use the plant for aesthetic reasons is a hanging basket.
  2. Cork Bark Elephant Bush: Its scientific name is Portulacaria Afra ‘Cork Bark’. It has a red-brown bark. Its leaves are emerald green, and you can use them for bonsai.
  3. Aurea Baby Jade: This is another of the main variants of the Rainbow Elephant Bush. Its botanical name is Portulacaria Aurea, and its common name is Yellow Rainbow Bush, and its leaves are green-yellow leaves whose color becomes more and more vibrant. The plant has pink flowers in its spring flowering season.
  4. Baby Elephant Bush Variegata: This plant has red-brown stems. Its foliage is light green with a bit of white variegation.
  5. Medio Picta Baby Jade Plant: Its botanical name is Portulacaria afra ‘Medio-picta.’ Its leaves are ovate and green, and they have white striped variegation. The plant’s stems have red-pink color. You can find some with white leaves among the green creating a beautiful contrast.
  6. Minima Baby Jade Plant: The minima is also known as Elephant Mat, and it has tiny green leaves and red stems that make for a fantastic contrast.
  7. Elephant Bush: This plant’s botanical name is Portulacaria Afra Macrophylla. This succulent has green emerald leaves, producing lavender flowers in summer.
  8. Manny Baby Jade Plant: The botanical name for this Rainbow Elephant Bush is Portulacaria Afra ‘Manny.’ It has green leaves and little white streaks. It is an excellent table plant that you can keep on your office desk or coffee table in the living room.
  9. Skyscraper Baby Jade Plant: It has light green leaves and its stems are reddish-brown. Sometimes the leaves or stems can be white.

Uses

This plant has several uses. Its leaves are delicious human vegetables and a popular meal for livestock and wildlife. People often plant the succulent in places prone to soil erosion as its roots bind the soil.

By eating the leaves, lactating mothers increase their breast milk for the benefit of their children. Owing to their succulent and non-toxic nature, the leaves often serve as a water source for people who find themselves in dry places where the plant grows naturally without drinking water. Porkbush has various applications in medicine.

  • You can run crashed leaves on blisters to help heal them.
  • The leaves can be chewed as a treatment for sore throat and mouth sores.
  • You can apply crushed leaves on pimples, rashes, and insect bites.
  • Treatment of sunburns.
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 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.

Since plant thrives in the sun, they require a lot of sunlight to grow. If you’re increasing 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

Since Rainbow Elephant Bush loves sunlight, you should place it 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 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

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

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. 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.

#4. Temperature

Like many succulents, this plant doesn’t do well in frigid temperatures. The Rainbow Elephant Bush can survive in cold temperatures of around 25oF (approximately -4oC) but only for a short while. It would help if you moved it indoors when the weather is cold for a long season. This plant typically does best in warm temperatures of about 65oF (18oC).

#5. Fertilizer

This plant requires nutritional supplements, especially in its growing seasons of spring and summer. Use a fertilizer that is made explicitly for house plants or one made for succulents and cacti. It is advisable to dilute the fertilizer to half-strength before feeding since it may cause chemical burns to the plant. Furthermore, you should start your feeding at the end of winter or the beginning of spring. Spring and summer are the plant’s growing seasons, and this is when it can utilize the additional feeds. Feeding it in its dormant seasons will only lead to the accumulation of harmful chemicals in the substrate.  

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, provide it with proper care and use pest control products on it.

Toxicity

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 home, such as cats or dogs, they should face no harm even if they consume the plant.

Common Problems

  • Leaves Dropping

The Rainbow Elephant Bush can have its leaves drop for various reasons. The most common cause of these problems is dehydration. Pest infestation is another possible cause of leaves drop because the pests suck moisture out of the plant. If the plant has root rot, its leaves may drop.

  • Yellow Leaves

Dehydration can also cause the yellowing of leaves, a precursor of dropping leaves. However, yellow leaves are mainly caused by poor nutrition. Feed your plant if you find that the leaves are turning yellow.

Final Words

The Portulacaria Afra Variegata is an all-weather succulent that serves both ornamental and nutritional purposes. While it is safe around kids and pets, ensure you do not apply pesticides to it to get rid of pests. It has many uses besides its decorative effect. You can use it to treat certain diseases, among other things. This plant is relatively easy to parent; like many succulents, you only need to monitor the watering.

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Posted in Succulents