Portulacaria afra from the black continent, a succulent plant with minimal care, beautiful and simple to grow in pots evergreen succulent shrub, native to southern Africa; in nature, it can reach 2-3 meters in height, while in pots it remains below 50-70 cm. It has the bearing of a small compact shrub, and develops a short stem that has a rounded, disordered, very branched “crown”; the fleshy stems are reddish-brown in color. The succulent leaves are oval, 2-5 cm long, light green in color, there are varieties with variegated leaves or with a yellow border. The plants grown outdoors in the open ground at the end of winter produce small pink, star-shaped flowers, gathered in terminal racemes; pot-grown specimens bloom sporadically. This succulent has fairly rapid growth and is also often used as a bonsai.
Elephant plant in English, Spekboom in Afrikaans: this is how Portulacaria afra is known, because in the regions of origin, in Africa, this evergreen succulent shrub constitutes a good slice of the daily feeding of elephants. And if in nature it reaches up to 3 meters in height, it is possible to bring a little Africa into the house and grow this beautiful plant in the garden, but also in pots (70 centimeters maximum height)
Exposure and watering:
Portulacaria afra Exposure: the portulacaria prefers sunny, or even partially shaded positions; it can bear temperatures close to 0 ° C, but it is advisable to keep the plant at temperatures not lower than 7-10 ° C.
Watering: from March to October water the plant only when the soil is perfectly dry, even every 10-15 days; during the cold months sporadically water the plants grown at temperatures above 15 ° C, otherwise suspend watering. During the growing season, dissolve the fertilizer water for succulent plants in the water every month.
Portulacaria afra: cultivation in soil, in pots and as bonsai
The portulacaria afra prefers well-drained soil, to be watered from March to October only when completely dry, and even more sporadically from November to February, during the period of vegetative rest – months in which it will, however, be necessary to administer the special fertilizer for succulent plants.
Exposure? In the sun or semi-shade, the Portulacaria afra loves temperatures between 5 and 10 degrees but does not even fear temperatures approaching zero. For this reason, it is a perfect outdoor plant; it can be grown in soil or in pots. It can also live in the apartment, but the slightly higher temperatures of the ideal compromise its splendid winter flowering, with pink star-shaped flowers, small and gathered in many florets.
For the few cures and the rather fast growth, the Portulacaria afra is also excellent as a bonsai, even for beginner bonsaists, and in fact, it is among the most common bonsai.
What to do if Portulacaria loses its leaves?
Portulacaria is a rather resistant plant. However, one of the problems that arise most frequently in pot cultivation is the loss of leaves, especially in the cold months.
But don’t worry! If our Portulacaria is losing leaves, it means that it suffers from too much humidity or thermal shock: we probably have to water it less frequently, and it would be preferable to move it to the balcony, in a semi-shaded part and with temperatures around 10 degrees, and not below zero; possibly protected from wind and frost with adequate protection in non-woven fabric. Soon she will recover, and in the spring she will return beautiful in all her vigor.