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Operculicarya decaryi (Elephant Tree)


Scientific Name

Operculicarya decaryi H. Perrier

Common Names

Elephant Tree, Jabily

Scientific Classification

Family: Anacardiaceae
Subfamily: Spondiadoideae
Genus: Operculicarya


Operculicarya decaryi is an attractive, small tree, up to 30 feet (9 m) tall, with thick bumpy and twisted trunk, zigzagging branches and alternate, odd-pinnate leaves. It is a natural bonsai tree with stems up to 3.3 feet (1 m) in diameter. The leaves are with tiny, shiny, dark green, rounded leaflets, often beautifully tinged red in colder weather. Mature plants have small reddish to brown flowers at the tips of the branches in late winter, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Little globular fruit age from yellow-orange to red on female plants. The seed is viable only when male and female plants flower together.


USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11b: from 25 °F (−3.9 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Elephant Tree is quite a strong plant, and because it is grown in rather harsh conditions, it is a relatively adaptable species. This plant is drought tolerant and does well in full sun in most places. It cannot tolerate freezing conditions.

It does not need an enormous amount of water, but during the growing season, it can enjoy quite a lot of water. Water a bit more regularly if in a container. Its roots will swell underneath the soil, and you will only know that is the case when you repot the plant.

In cold winters, plants will be more or less deciduous but will remain evergreen in warmer locations. Avoid watering during periods of dormancy.

Like most caudiciforms, this plant enjoys a fast-draining potting soil. Avoid peat if possible, and amend the soil with drainage material such as pumice, expanded shale, perlite, or a similar product. See more at How to Grow and Care for an Elephant Tree (Operculicarya decaryi).


Operculicarya decaryi is native to Madagascar.


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