Portulacaria afra: Dwarf jade plant

Family: Asparagaceae
Common name: Dwarf jade plant, Elephant bush, Porkbush, Spekboom

It’s very difficult to imagine that this pretty little plant is a favorite for elephants, and hence is called Elephant bush. Dwarf jade plants are a native of Africa, where it can grow up to 4 meters tall in the wild! But most species you see in India are tiny, growing in small pots on window sills and ledges.

Under cultivation, they usually grow only a few feet off the ground, growing very slowly. They have a reddish-brown stem with small, rounded, heart-shaped, succulent leaves. Leaves are thick and fleshy, placed opposite each other, arranged very uniformly. The older stems are brown and look like tree barks; younger stems are green and tender.

They are often called Jade plants and confused with the original jade plant, Crassula Ovata. But they are not related to each other, though, as succulents, both have very similar characteristics.

Dwarf jade plants need very little water and love growing in shallow soil, rocky areas and slopes. In home gardens, most plants die from over-watering than from neglect. Though they are good indoor plants, they love direct sunlight and can flourish in a sunny spot.

If you are growing them indoors, keep the plants near a sunny window so that they get some indirect sunlight. Or place them outside for a few days every week. Make sure you don’t move them from a shaded place to blazing, direct sunlight since the leaves might start browning.

Dwarf jade plants can be grown as bonsai plants quite easily since they are slow-growing and prefer small, shallow pots. There are a few other variants with larger leaves, yellow leaves and variegated leaves; the variegated leaf variety is called a rainbow bush.

Though it is very rare in home plants, Dwarf jade plants can grow small white, purple or pink flowers in the wild. The leaves are edible and are eaten raw or cooked, with salads or soups.

Propagation is from stem cuttings, which should be left to dry for a few days before planting.

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