Portulacaria afra, commonly known as Elephant Bush or Elephant Food, is known and used around the world as a succulent garden shrub and as a bonsai subject. It is a perfect addition to your indoor or outdoor succulent garden. It is also know as Dwarf Jade or Miniature Jade, but it is not related to Crassula ovata. The leaves are small, rounded, green to yellowish and succulent, held on red stems. They are edible with a pleasant, acidy taste. Elephant Bush also comes in variegated forms.
As the common name “Elephant Food” suggests, this succulent is eaten by elephants, but feeds goats and tortoises as well. It is also used in Southern African cuisine, added to salads, soups and stews to add a sour flavor.
If planted outdoors, Elephant Bush grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 9b through 11. Like any other succulent, it has its problems, including leaf drop.
Overwatering and Underwatering
Overwatering is the primary cause of failure in Elephant Bush because it robs the plants of oxygen and invites fungal rot disease. The leaves of the overwatered plant become swollen and discolored. Leaf drop may occur in severe cases. To save a plant that has been overwatered, repot it after removing any rotten roots.
Leaf drop can also occur if the Elephant Bush is underwatered. Not enough water causes the leaves to dry up and sometimes drop off. This succulent should be watered more often in summer and less in the winter. Let the soil dry between waterings. In the winter give enough water to keep the leaves from shriveling.
Leaf drop may also occur if the soil does not have proper nutrients or drainage qualities. You can use a specially formulated potting soil for succulents or create your own. Adequate water drainage should be a priority for any succulent’s soil. If using regular potting soil, adding perlite can help with drainage as well as aeration. Use a balanced fertilizer no more than twice a summer.
Changes in Light, Temperature and Humidity
Sudden changes in light, temperature and humidity can all contribute to leaf drop in Elephant Bush. This succulent prefer full sun, and if relocated to an area of less sunlight, it can start dropping leaves.
Same goes for temperature. If you move your plant from a cooler area to a much warmer area or vice versa, the plant may react in the same way and begin dropping leaves. Severe changes in humidity can have the same results. Ideal daytime temperatures for Elephant Bush are 70 to 85 °F (21 to 29 °C) and ideal nighttime temperatures for it are 50 to 55 °F (10 to 13 °C). Avoid placing the plant near a heating or air conditioning vent to prevent it from getting too dry. Humidifiers may be used during the winter to maintain humidity levels.
Pests and Diseases
Pests and diseases can weaken a plant enough to potentially cause leaf drop. Pests that can cause the most damage to leafy succulents are white flies and scale moths. Other pests can include spider mites, mealybugs and fungus gnat larvae. Diseases that affect Elephant Bush the most are fungal. These diseases are prevented through proper watering, water drainage and pest control.
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