Portulacaria Afra Variegata

portulacaria afra variegata

Ultimate Guide to Portulacaria Afra Variegata

If you need an exotic succulent for your pots, gardens, and hanging baskets, the Portulacaria Afra Variegata is your go-to option. The Portulacaria Afra Variegata is also called Elephant Bush because it is one of the favorite plants of elephants.

If you are concerned about the environment, it will interest you to know that the Elephant Bush grows in any environment and absorbs a higher rate of carbon dioxide than other plants.

One more thing about this plant is that it is edible. In fact, in South Africa, Portulacaria Afra Variegata succulent is used in preparing delicacies ranging from salads to stews and soups. It contains Vitamin C, which helps to fortify the immune system, prevent cardiovascular diseases, and some of the skin problems.

Here, you will read everything that needs to be known about the Portulacaria Afra Variegata succulent, from the best ways of growing it, to the most effective propagation techniques.

Description of the Portulacaria Afra Variegata

The Portulacaria Afra Variegata succulents belong to the Didiereaceae family. It is a shrubby succulent with plump leaves, stems, and branches. The succulent grows up to three meters tall, making it a perfect option for a houseplant. The leaves of the Portulacaria Afra Variegata plant are silvery-green with cream edges. During the summer, Elephant Bush produces pink flowers in clusters.

The Portulacaria Afra Variegata is a perennial plant that originates from South Africa. Upon first glance, you might mistake the Portulacaria Afra Variegata for the Crassula Ovata succulent because of their resemblance.

The only significant difference between both plants is that Portulacaria Afra Variegata grows laterally and needs to be supported when it hangs downwards, while the Crassula Ovata succulent grows upright. You can use Elephant Bush’s lateral growth to your advantage by tweaking the plant to form different spectacular shapes.

While the Elephant Bush plant can withstand high humidity, desert sun, and heat, it is a bit sensitive to frost.

portulacaria afra variegata
By Dysmorodrepanis – Own photo, Cologne University Botanical Collection, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

How to Plant the Portulacaria Afra Variegata Succulent

Potting and Other Plants

You can grow the Elephant Bush as a bonsai specimen, in a hanging basket, or in a garden. The plant roots can adapt to a shallow bonsai pot and survive in a dry environment.

The Portulacaria Afra Variegata succulent can grow alone but can still live with other succulents to give a rich contrast. The soil needs to be well-drained, while the Portulacaria Afra Variegata leaves need to be stabilized with rocks because they can be pretty heavy.


A cactus potting mix or a custom potting mix with non-porous materials such as pea gravel or poultry grit is the best for the Elephant Bush succulent. You can also use pumice if that is what is readily available.

To encourage water retention, you can add a lot of sand to the soil, while to encourage water evaporation, you need an unglazed pot with drainage holes.

Sunlight and Temperature

For this succulent to thrive, ensure it receives an ample amount of sunlight. If you are growing an indoor garden with this plant, ensure you place it close to a south-facing window. And if for some reason, you cannot place the plant near a southern window, you can settle for an eastern or western window.

Also, if you keep this succulent under direct sunlight, the leaves will turn red or yellow. So, if you do not want this discoloration, consider going for partial shade rather than full sun exposure.

If the nights are warm and the weather is good, and the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you can take the plant outside. The Portulacaria Afra Variegata acclimates to a new environment at its own pace, so do not worry if you notice some leaves are sunburned. In the late autumn, expect the succulent to lose some leaves if you move it to a location with less sunlight.

Watering the Portulacaria Afra Variegata Succulent

The Elephant Bush plant is drought-tolerant, but it still needs adequate watering to grow faster and bigger. But ensure you do not overwater the plant in your bid to make it grow bigger. Also, ensure that the soil is not over moisturized to prevent the roots from rotting.

The “cut and dry” watering technique is the best way of watering the Portulacaria Afra Variegata succulent. This technique involves allowing the soil to get dry before continuing your watering schedule.

If you’re growing this plant indoors, it would be best to restrict watering to winter only. Except the house is extremely hot. To prevent it from becoming droopy, resume watering when you notice the bottom leaves are looking weak. It might take over two weeks before you need to water the succulents again under the right weather conditions.

In the spring, you can water the plant as the top layer of the soil gets dry.

You might need to add fertilizers to make the Elephant Bush grow healthier and faster. If you are adding fertilizers, a frequency of once a month will be enough.

That said, do not apply pesticides or any petroleum-based chemicals on the Portulacaria Afra Variegata plant. We advise you this because it’s very sensitive to those products.

portulacaria afra variegata succulent
Photo from Amazon

How to Propagate

The Portulacaria Afra Variegata is not typically grown from seeds. The top way to propagate is from cuttings. Propagating from stem cuttings takes just about four weeks for roots to develop regardless of the area, provided there is an ample supply of sunlight and water.

The best seasons for propagating this succulent are during the spring and summer. Give time to the cuttings to dry for a few days before transplanting them in a new potting mix.

Allowing Elephant Bush to develop roots in a water medium is also quite effective. Once the roots are growing out of proportion, you can move them into a bigger pot.

All-Weather Succulent

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 on it to get rid of pests.