Spekboom

Scientific name: Portulacaria afra
Synonyms: Spekboom, Bacon Tree, Pork Bush, Elephant’s Food, Elephant Bush, Dwarf Jade Plant.

Portulacaria afra is an easy going succulent that has an attractive growth habit, with small green succulent leaves on a red coloured stem. Its sometimes referred to as a ‘dwarf jade’ plant due to its appearance but is actually not related to Crassula; it’s part of the Didiereaceae family. 

Note: This plant is pet friendly and safe for people that like to nibble…it’s actually edible and used in salads (just wash before use!). Elephants also enjoy it… hence its nickname ‘elephant’s food’.

Common Symptoms

  • Scorched yellowing foliage: Your Spekboom is getting too much bright, intense light; move to somewhere more shady - indirect light is best for growing these as houseplants. 
  • Dropping leaves: The main cause of leaf drop in the Elephant Bush is a sudden drop in temperature or being placed in a cold, draughty position, or too close to a heater. This houseplant needs a warm, bright spot to thrive.
  • Limp, brown or wilting leaves: This is a sign of a watering issue and could be a result of either root rot or prolonged under watering. If the roots of have started to rot, take stem cuttings of your Portulacaria afra and root in potting mix as detailed below.
  • Very long ‘stretched’ stems/internodes: This is called etiolation and means that your Bacon Tree isn’t getting enough light; stems will be especially ‘stretched’ with big gaps between leaves; move to a brighter location.
  • Yellowing foliage: If the plant isn’t dropping leaves, but is yellowing, the possible causes are that temperature might be too high or the plant isn’t getting enough light.
  • Pests: These houseplants don’t have any major issues with pests but a combination of really warm temperatures and lower humidity can sometimes invite mealy bugs, or scale onto the Spekboom. Use rubbing alcohol to wipe affected areas, or spray the plant with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Keep in a more shady spot until the plant has recovered.
  • Plant has stopped growing: Over winter, if temperatures are cold enough, the Spekboom can go dormant; or have a winter rest. This is normal and growth will resume when temperatures increase. Just reduce watering until active growth starts up again.
  • Plant collapse: This is often caused by root rot as a result of prolonged overwatering, especially during the winter months when the plant can enter a period of dormancy.

Care Instructions

  • Origin: Native to South Africa, particularly the Eastern Cape, the Spekboom can be found growing on rocky, or sandy terrain in shrub-like form.
  • Height: up to 0.8 metre height / 0.5 metre spread indoors or kept in a container. Outdoors in its natural habitat it is pretty prolific and can grow up to 6 metres tall!  
  • Light: When grown outdoors the plant is quite tolerant of bright, direct light. But as a houseplant bright, indirect light is best - a location that gets a few hours morning sun would be the perfect spot.
  • Water: Through Spring and Summer, this succulent plant likes to be watered well using water at room temperature, then allowed to almost dry out before its next drink. Over winter, if temperatures are cool enough, the bacon tree will have a rest period which will be signalled by slower growth. At this point, reduce watering until signs of active growth resume. 
  • Humidity: Portulacaria afra copes well with average humidity; in a more humid environment, less watering will be needed.
  • Temperature: This houseplant likes a warm, draught free location and will grow happily in temperatures of 12-27°C, but try to avoid sudden drops in temperature and cold windowsills. 
  • Soil: A special potting mix for cacti and succulents is a good choice for this plant, and if desired, you can also add some pumice and sand for extra drainage. The Spekboom doesn’t like having wet feet so make sure the planter has drainage holes. 
  • Fertilizer: Spekboom enjoy fertilising during their Spring - Summer growth period; once a month is sufficient. Use a balanced fertiliser at half the recommended dilution level.
  • Repotting: The Elephant Bush plant grows best when slightly root-bound, so doesn’t need to be repotted regularly. Roots ‘circling’ around the bottom of the nursery pot is an indication that repotting is needed. Increase pot size by just a few centimetres at this stage, no drastic jumps. 
  • Pruning: It’s really easy to prune your Spekboom when the stems get particularly long to keep it looking neat. Just use a sterile blade and trim into the shape you desire. These houseplants are also a popular choice to prune into a bonsai form - smaller plants are best for this, or you make your own by propagating… see below!
  • Propagation: Portulacaria propagation is a breeze - trim stems and leave to dry off for a day or two before planting the cuttings in a potting mix for cacti and succulents and wait for the plant to root. You can also use these cuttings to create a bonsai plant.

If in stock, shop for Spekboom here.

 

Spekboom House Plant

Spekboom in Terracotta