Portulacaria Species, Elephant Bush, Elephant Food, Purslane Tree, Spekboom

Portulacaria afra

Family: Didiereaceae
Genus: Portulacaria (por-tew-luh-KAR-ee-uh) (Info)
Species: afra (AF-ruh) (Info)
Synonym:Claytonia portulacaria
Synonym:Portulaca fruticosa
Synonym:Portulacaria portulacaria
View this plant in a garden


Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Cactus and Succulents

Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun


Grown for foliage


Foliage Color:

Unknown - Tell us


4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)


36-48 in. (90-120 cm)


USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Where to Grow:

Suitable for growing in containers



Bloom Color:

Pale Pink

Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Spring/Early Summer

Other details:

Unknown - Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

7.9 to 8.5 (alkaline)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

Allow cut surface to callous over before planting

Seed Collecting:

Unknown - Tell us


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Gilbert, Arizona

Glendale, Arizona

Goodyear, Arizona

Hereford, Arizona

Mesa, Arizona

New River, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona(3 reports)

Queen Creek, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona(2 reports)

Tempe, Arizona

Brea, California

Brentwood, California

Canoga Park, California

Clayton, California

Desert View Highlands, California

Escondido, California

Long Beach, California

Los Angeles, California

Manhattan Beach, California

Murrieta, California

Pleasant Hill, California

Ramona, California

Reseda, California

Rowland Heights, California

San Diego, California(3 reports)

San Francisco, California

Simi Valley, California

Sonora, California

Spring Valley, California

Tarzana, California

Vista, California

Winchester, California

Deltona, Florida

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Melbourne Beach, Florida

Pompano Beach, Florida

Venice, Florida

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Patterson, Louisiana

Greenfield, Massachusetts

Henderson, Nevada

Andrews, Texas

Austin, Texas(2 reports)

Bryan, Texas

Fort Worth, Texas

Harlingen, Texas

Houston, Texas

Richmond, Texas

show all

Gardeners' Notes:


On May 6, 2015, melrilla from hartbeespoort,
South Africa wrote:

Just want to clarify that ''Spekboom'' is not used by the native africans and is actually an Afrikaans word


On Jul 17, 2014, stevelvv from San Diego, CA (Zone 10a) wrote:

Plant is in full bloom in San Diego. It seems the drier it is, the more it blooms.


On Jun 14, 2013, cactusmother from Scottsdale, AZ wrote:

Help! Help! All of a sudden my elephant food in an 8'x8' brick planter is yellowing off and looks like it is dying. Been there for about 3-4 years. Some of the top branches did freeze this year (Scottsdale, Az), but I just cut them off and the plant seemed to be doing fine. They now look like too much sun, but this has never been a problem. I've taken samples to two nurseries and they say perhaps too much water - but they look like they need water. I used Osmocote earlier this Spring. Any suggestions? The planter is centered in a large open-air atrium in a patio home, so sun exposure changes during the year and in 20 years, this has been the only plant that has thrived throughout the seasons - until now. Help!


On Dec 11, 2012, stacym3 from New River, AZ wrote:

does anyone know what may be eating my elephant bush? It was so big now looks like maybe a bird has torn many of the branches off of it. I don't see any tracks and have had it outside for awhile now and never experienced any problems with this.


On Aug 6, 2009, Shelley47 from San Diego, CA wrote:

Portulacaria does great in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego. I'd like to know more about it's root spread when planting it as a hedge in the ground. Anyone know about that? I'd like to let it grow 4-6' tall, but don't want the roots to spread to my neighbor's property.


On Mar 30, 2009, ffeeddee wrote:

I have some plants of Portulacaria afra in pots, all from a small twig I took from a big plant 20 years ago.
They thrive without problems under the full sun of italian summer (up to 40 C), in winter protect them in a closed patio south facing (min. temp. 3C).
The biggest plant is about 1,7 meters.
Never seen flowers.


On Oct 24, 2008, BlissfulGarden from Baton Rouge, LA wrote:

From http://www.cactuscollection.com:

Portulacaria afra ("Elephant Bush"), native to Africa, is known as "Spekboom" by the native Africans. In habitat, this plant forms large "thickets" known as "Spekboomvelds", and are fed upon extensively by elephants. A group of elephants can quickly strip all the leaves and smaller branches in a single feeding, but the regenerative property of the Portulacaria is so great that within two weeks the branches will have regrown lush new greenery. Portulacaria afra can form up to 80% of the elephant's diet. This is a somewhat symbiotic relationship between the plant and the elephant ~ during the feeding the elephant breaks off branches that later re-root and establis... read more


On Jun 26, 2008, pharazon from Murrieta, CA wrote:

Here in Zone 9 Temecula, CA, this plant has grown very large over the course of five years. Mine is planted in the ground, and grows in every direction. I would not hesitate to tell someone else to grow theres outdoors year round in the same zone, unless they don't want too much of it.


On Sep 28, 2004, BingsBell from SC, MT (Zone 5a) wrote:

I have this lovely plant in my sun room here in Montana. I will have to say that it can't be too close to the window or it actually seems to burn. The only problem I have with it is that mealy bugs love it. I think I finally have rid it of the pest. Mine has many, many limbs from the soil up and branches very easily to be very full and is about a foot tall. I have had it five years.


On Jul 28, 2004, whately47 from Greenfield, MA wrote:

This is an excellent plant for Bonsai. It grows really well outdoors in my area (Western MA) during the summer with plenty of sun, water, and fertilizer. The plant is a welcome addition indoors during the winter when most other bonsai species must be outside. I had only one problem with the plant. That problem occured when the plants roots were cut back to fit into the bonsai pot. The process was done correctly because I was at a bonsai workshop. Over time the leaves began to fall off and the plant was failing. I took it back to the Bonsai grower where it recieved some TLC in their greenhouse. One month later it was like a new plant. I believe that if I had not taken the plant to be looked at it would of died. When autumn and winter is approaching make sure that you don't water the plant a... read more


On Nov 5, 2003, rjbphx wrote:

For a very comprehensive overview of this plant, please see my 3-part monograph at http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Portulacaria.html . (Not selling anything!)

For pictures of a containerized plant in bloom (June 2003, near Kingman, Arizona), please see
http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Blooming.html .

Definitely not poisonous -- leaf pads are edible, though slightly bitter tasting.

Cuttings root extremely easily in soil mix or in water. Cuttings do not necessarily have to be calloused over before setting out. Larger cuttings (1/2"+ diameter) should have most of the exis... read more


On Apr 7, 2001, BotanyBob from Thousand Oaks, CA wrote:

In Southern California, this species does very well in full sun, growing into a large, succulent shrub up to 10' tall. It has greyish, woody stems and numerous irregularly arranged branches covered with 2cm oval to circular flattish succulent bright green leaves, very similar to the leaves on a Jade plant, only smaller. Left unpruned, this plant (at least here) grows into a harmless thicket of branches and leaves. As the branches get too heavy, some break off, often rooting where they fall and beginning new plants. This is not a plant for a small area unless you plan on pruning it yearly (very easy to prune by the way). There is a variegated variety that is much more prostrate and slower growing. The woody stems on this version are redder and the leaves a striped pale yellow/ pale gre... read more


On Apr 3, 2001, Ehowell from Weyburn, SK wrote:

This is a small succulent tree. Grows slowly, (mine is only 3 inches tall after 5 years!). Needs bright light but not direct sun.