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Growing Portulacaria afra: Elephant Food

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Form: A succulent shrub.
Lifespan: Over 50 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow to rapid depending on growing conditions.
Mature Size: 4-12' high and somewhat wider.
Flowers: Tiny, white to pink to lavender, clustered on terminal spikes.
Bloom: Late spring to early summer. Watering and moist soil discourage blooming.
Fruit: Small dry capsule.
Leaves: Green, oval, smooth margins, fleshy, edible with a green apple flavor, high in vitamin C. Several cultivars have variegated leaves. The leaves regrow quickly after being browsed.
Stems: Woody, green to dark red, easily broken, no thorns. Broken branches fallen on the ground may take root.
Roots: Extensive.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees. The leaves may attract browsing animals, including elephants, cattle, and javelina. They are a favorite of tortoises.
Toxic / Danger: No.
Origin: South Africa.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 9-11. Hardy to 25°F after becoming established.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun to part shade. Avoid full shade.
Water after becoming established: Deep water every one or two weeks in the hottest months of the year, monthly at most in winter. Soak the soil, then allow it to dry completely before watering again. Do not water before or during the weeks it is scheduled to bloom or it will fail to flower.
Soil: Well drained, dry, low in organic content, sandy, somewhat tolerant otherwise. Fertilizing or enriched soil will prevent this plant from flowering. It is salt tolerant.
Mulch: Mulch only in freezing conditions during the first three years. Remove mulch by mid spring so the soil will dry faster. Moist soil inhibits blooming.
First Year Care: Protect from freezing the first two or three years.
Planting: Can be grown in containers, and indoors, and used for bonsai.
Prune: Trimming is rarely needed and should be done only to shape. It can be pruned into a hedge.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Cuttings root easily.
Uses: Ornamental, edible leaves, erosion control. The leaves are used in salads and soups.

This plant is a member of the Porkbush family (Didiereaceae). It was previously assigned to the Purslane family. Other common names are Pork Bush, Elephant Bush, and Spekboom (Afrikaans for bacon tree).
This plant has the distinction of being a high carbon-sink plant, removing more carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis than most other plants.
This plant often does not flower in cultivation because it should not be grown in enriched soil, or fertilized, and the soil must be entirely dry before it is scheduled to bloom.

Do you have additional information or a different experience for this plant that you would like to share?
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copyright ©
Latest update: May, 2020.

By Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-6153223