The elephant jade plant (Portulacaria afra), often called the elephant bush or porkbush, resembles the common jade plant (Crassula ovata) with glossy, succulent leaves. The bush grows up to 12 feet in height in its native south African habitat. As a garden shrub, it rarely surpasses 6 feet high. It grows well as a as a garden specimen planting or hedge in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 to 11, according to the University of Oklahoma.
A succulent, the elephant jade plant holds water within its fleshy leaves to sustain it in the event of a drought. Each leaf measures approximately 3/4 inch long. The bright green leaves are offset nicely with the reddish stems of the plant. The plant can be kept with ease as an indoor bonsai. It also has the ability to pull excess carbon out of the atmosphere. One stand of porkbush will absorb more carbon than a small forest, according to PlantZAfrica.
The elephant jade plant is a favorite food source for elephants in southern Africa. The elephants consume the plant from the top downward. This allows the plant to spread its stems outward where they quickly take root and enable the plant to survive. In its native habitat, the plant is in danger from domestic goats which consume the lower stems of the plant so it cannot regenerate and grow.
Due to elephant jade plant's ability to regenerate by rooting its stems, it rarely uses seeds. The seeds of the plant are produced following spring flowering. The elephant plant produces small, pink flowers in clusters. The seeds have a difficult time establishing themselves in the arid, dry dirt of the plants native habitat. They rarely germinate successfully.
In its wild habitat, most elephant jade plants are covered with a form of mistletoe (Viscum crassulae) which lives as a parasitic plant on the shrub. The mistletoe inserts roots into the stems of the elephant jade plant to suck out water and nutrients. Berries are produced on the mistletoe which birds and other small animals adore. Despite its parasitic features, the mistletoe does not damage the elephant jade plant.
In its native habitat, the elephant jade bush is widely consumed by both humans and animals. The foliage has a bitter taste. The leaves help to treat heat stroke and dehydration when sucked on. When crushed, the leaves also help relieve the pain of blisters or other skin irritations. The sap from the leaves is also used to relieve sunburn.
The elephant jade plant grows well in full sunlight. It prefers dry soil and rarely requires watering. Its low watering needs makes the plant ideal for landscaping in a xeriscape (low-water use landscaping). The plant quickly dies if the temperature plummets below 25 degrees F.