My Portulacaria afra (Elephant's Food, Elephant Bush) Is dying. P

alexandransSeptember 18, 2006

Hello everyone.

I am new here. First of all forgive any grammar or generally language mistakes I make since English is not my mother tongue.

I joined mostly because my favourite plant looks seriously ill.

I would really appreciate any help I can get!!!!!!!

My plant is "Portulacaria afra", also known as "Elephant's Food" or "Elephant Bush". It is approximately 5 years old but I have it for 4 years and the last 2 years it is growing really fast. Especially from this spring until 1 week ago it grew from 70 centimetres (2.3 feet) to 1 meter (3,28 feet). It is planted still in its original pot which is a clay pot 12 centimetres width (4.72 inches) and 9,5 centimetres height (3.74 inches).

I was in the process trying to figure out of this is normal or if I should cut it down a bit but I dont have the heart to touch it. I thought nature knows what itÂs doing. I donÂt want to treat it as a bonsai. I want it to grow naturally. But before I even started my research about it . . . it started . . . The longest branch, which is 1 meter long (3,28 feet), started losing its leaves dramatically. Just by touching it a little bit tenths of healthy leaves are falling. The branch has started loosing its leaves from the top and gradually dying downwards as if something is eating it.

Now I have done my research about it and I will tell you what is NOT wrong with it first.

1) I checked very very thoroughly all the branches and soil and it is not root mealy bugs or any other bugs.

2) I havenÂt moved it and no temperature or light condition has changed in its environment.

3) And last, I havenÂt over watered it!!!!

I water it exactly the same way for 4 years now and it has never complained.

The only time it got in a bad shape was 3 years ago when I moved to a new apartment. It got shocked with the change of light, change of temperature and everything so it lost ALL its leaves and was completely naked for a couple of months. BUT the branches were very healthy and kept on growing till they started growing leaves and thrived again.

Now it is different. Now the branch is dying.

I also noticed during these 4 years some other branches that are wrinkly and thin in some of their parts (not the entire branch) and donÂt look particularly healthy in my opinion, but they have leaves and the upper part of these brunches is green and healthy and still growing.

I donÂt know what to do. Should I replant it? Should I cut it down? I donÂt want to cut it down really . . . but if it stops it from perish I will do it :s

Please please please help me! This plant is my pride and joy of all my plants. It is also the very first plant I ever cared for and the reason I started being interested in plants.

Here I posted some pictures so that you can get a visual of what is happening to my baby!

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If it were mine I would put it in a considerably larger pot. In the spring I would prune it back rather drasticley and try to give it more light. It looks healthy to me but very cramped!

    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 10:41AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
TT, zone 5b MA

Hi -

Mine has never exhibited that kind of branch shrivelling as in yours. Could that be a sign of underwatering during the growing season?

Mine does drop some yellowing leaves occasionally - but these are usually older. I agree with the drastic prune back and repotting as well.


    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 1:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Leaf drop on the P. afra is due to over watering in the cool periods. I know you said you were not over watering, but my leaves drop when I over water mine. It looks like you have a pot inside a container that holds water. The plant should not stand in water. If it were me, I would remove all dead leaves & branches, put it in a larger pot with well drained soil, & keep it dry.
The plant looks leggy once it recovers you might progress to a higher light intensity.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 5:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dufflebag2002(Calif. 91607)

I agree with Fred and the rest of the group. It needs a larger pot and some new clean fresh mix. This group is guiet good and know what they are talking about. Do you have a drainage hole at the bottom of the pot? Norma

    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 5:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

First of all I want to thank everyone for your help and your advices. I am amazed how fast everyone answered!

Oh I knew it would come to this. Pruning you say then!
I hate pruning. :( I dont know how to do it without butchering it :(
So how much should I cut? All the old thick long branches have also long sub branches that have also sub branches and so on . . . Should I cut it down to half its size or. . . ? Also I guess I should go and buy a special cutting thingy (sorry bad English) because the branches are really hard and a regular pair of scissors would most probably chew rather than cut right? (You see! Its obvious I have never done this before :s ) And then what do I do with the healthy branches that I cut? Put them in water and wait for them to root like you do with a Pothos plant? Also, when should I do this? Isnt it bad for the plant to cut it in autumn? Should I wait till next spring?
The same goes for the repoting. Should I wait till spring?
The reason I havent moved it to a bigger pot all these years is because someone told me that these plants like rocky areas and like to be huddled. I guess she was wrong since all of you are telling me to repot.

As for the watering; I promise you it is not over watering or under watering. During the growing season it grew 30 centimetres (11.81 inches). And there is a drainage hole in the bottom of the container. Up until 10 days ago it was a really healthy odd-looking plant.
The weird thing is that while this particular branch is losing its leaves and its steadily dying, the rest of the plant is in perfect health and I see new growth everyday. As if it is a different plant. Thats why I got scared. It looks as if THIS branch has a disease that slowly spreads downwards. (Because the lower part of this branch is still healthy)

So, even if my heart breaks with the thought of chopping off my baby . . . Im going to do whatever youre telling me here, provided that youre kind enough to give me a few more advices on how to do it!

I feel as if Im about to perform a surgery with someone giving me instructions over the phone hehe

    Bookmark   September 19, 2006 at 5:09AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Pls. do not put the cut branches in water to root. This will not work well w/ this plant (I've killed a number of these from overwatering, so I certainly know what NOT to do for them).

I'll let others speak abt the pruning, but pls. I know it's difficult for a first timer, get used to the fact of cutting back/trimming plants. It doesn't cause pain to the plant & it will only serve to improve the plant in the future, making healthy & happier new growth. Pls. try to keep this in mind!

    Bookmark   September 19, 2006 at 12:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
drtygdnr(Southern Cali. Zone 10)

I say BONSAI!!! :) lol

    Bookmark   September 20, 2006 at 2:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I dont't have an elephant bush but I saw some the other day and Iv'e been thinking they were kind of appealing. I think I'll treat myself to one tomorrow!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2006 at 3:48AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi to all. Just joined this site. Question and answers about watering and pruning elephant food plant interesting and helpful. I too have an elephant food plant and have learned from Q&A;s that I have been over watering (dropping leaves). Try not to but will cut back. Also, read elsewhere about potting soil. I saw advice to use a "succulent" mix soil rather than regular potting soil. My plant is in regular soil. Other than dropping leaves growing like a weed. But, should I still change soil or leave well enough alone. Thanks to all.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 5:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I hope you didn't forget the most important thing. Plants need fresh air circulation. Room for the roots to grow, So take it out of the pot, cut back the roots, remove the dead ones, for insurance start some new cuttings. When you cut the stems, don't cut off all the green be sure to leave some, give it fresh damp soil. Do not water again until you see new growth. They shouldn't be growing that fast, and the stems like to hang down. Mine is almost as old as I am. Mine almost died and I found a tiny twig left and planted it. I still have my old plant. New soil may jump start it, again. Variegated forms grow more slowly. The growth tells me too much water and it needs more light. This plant you cannot kill. One more think it need a fast draining mix. NO Peet moss. Norma

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 3:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I had two Elephant Food shrubs that I planted in pots in front of my house 2 yrs. ago. They were healthy and so beautiful people would stop and ask what they were.
I live in Las Vegas so the heat and constant sun were exacty what they needed so when the freak cold snap we had here in January that drove temps to the 20's I lost both plants within 2 days. Totally dead. My son just pulled both of them up a few days ago to replace them and we can't believe how tough and strong the roots are. The pots are 20 inches across but I had no idea they would be so pot bound in such a short time. I would definitely recommend placing your plant in a much larger pot after all this time.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 5:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have just noticed that my Porta Afra is dropping leaves like crazy. I got it in July and have it in the most sunny place I have in the house but I live in western WA and we don't get much sun here, especially in the fall/winter/spring - haha! The care tag that came with it said to give it infrequent deep waterings and that it was drought tolerant once established. So I planted it in some MiracleGro Cactus, Palm and Citrus soil and only watered it occasionally. It's looking pretty sad now ... The gist that I am getting from previous posts is that I need to keep the soil moist but not wet, is that right? There's not much I can do about the light but is the soil I have it in okay?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 12:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Let the soil dry completely...stick a skewer or pencil in the dirt to check....if it comes out clean, water the plant until you see water coming out the drain holes, then don't water again until the soil is completely dry. Also, it looks like there might still be water in the drip tray in your photo. Empty it and do so every time you water. Succulents don't like wet feet. Can you move the plant under a light somewhere? Even a reading light next to the sofa would help. Personally, I would cut that soil with about 50 % perlite or pumice (whichever is available in your region) to create a more freely draining soil.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 2:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks, Nancy. I had just watered it before I took the picture. The sun is actually shining right now so I put it outside for a little bit to catch the rays. I have it usually under the skylight in the hallway which is the place with the most light in the house. Should I put it under a reading light instead? Or in addition to after the sun goes down?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 6:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi Donna, you can do either/or. I have a bunch of plants in the basement (for winter) which only get light from a fluorescent shop light. Some days the light is on for 6 hours, some days I forget to turn it off! I aim for 8-12 hours a day.
I have other plants up in the actual house and they get whatever sunlight comes in and then whatever ambient light is in that particular room (from regular light bulbs).
Your P. afra looks great as is and should stop the leaf drop once the watering is under control.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 7:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

My Port. afras, both the green and the variegated form like yours, Donna, are a pain to keep happy indoors during the Winter. Mine shed most of their leaves by Spring, and then grow a fresh set. I don't let mine dry out or the leaf-drop compounds. These have delicate leaves - they are not like Jades that can tolerate a drying out.


    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 10:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Update: My Port. afras is now in a sunny window at work which receives morning sun. About 4-5 months ago it started spouting little leaves but they are still quite small. Is this plant a slow grower?

And I'm still confused about how often to water it. I'm thinking this plant is more work than it's worth!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 6:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Donna, Portulacaia are generally grown outside because indoors is not the best location. This is a plant that is grown in Africa in intense heat and full sun. Morning sun really is not enough- it needs at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, more if possible. It needs a large pot because it's root base is enormous; and it cannot be overwatered. I grew two of these on either side of my garage in enormous pots and the plants grew very large, very dense and absolutely beautiful. They thrive best in a lot of heat which we in the Las Vegas area get without a doubt all summer long. The temperatures here stay usually above 105° and reaching 110° To 115° very often. The sun never stops shining so these plants were as happy as they could possibly be. If you can move this plant outside in a much larger pot and place it in a spot that will get at least six hours of sun a day, I think you'll find quite a difference. Just for the record I lost both of those beauties last winter when temperatures got down to the low 20s for five consecutive days, something that never happens here. They can't take the cold.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 8:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I had watered it 4 days ago and when I checked the bottom of the trunk it so happen to be green, so the tree is alive. So what I did was placed closer to the grow light to see if it grows buds/ they told me to give it 2 weeks and if there is no growth, it would be replaced. I have enclosed photo. These plants are very confusing. Please give advise me I wonder if it will grow.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 11:55AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I had watered it 4 days ago and when I checked the bottom of the trunk it so happen to be green, so the tree is alive. So what I did was placed closer to the grow light to see if it grows buds/ they told me to give it 2 weeks and if there is no growth, it would be replaced. I have enclosed photo. These plants are very confusing. Please give advise me I wonder if it will grow.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 11:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh luv Speckboom! That's what it's called by natives, you kno this is 80% of an elephants diet, thus the name elephant Bush. Wish i could help you with your problem, goodluck

    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 12:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

D, the question has been answered several times, I think.
As I said before: Light and Nutrients are what it needs, now that you're watering more frequently.


    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 7:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

J: they are slow growers, I just have to be patient right? Thanks for your advise.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 7:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

The green form is pretty vigorous....fertilizer, water, light.
It should be covered in new leaves/new growth at this time of year.


    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 11:16AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Two more Echies from today
The first is E. kircheriana and the one in the back...
B. Fagaroides seed
I have a B. Fagaroides with a small seed left from...
whip1 Zone 5 NE Ohio
Has anyone used Copper Sulphate Pentahydrate as an fungicide?
Wondering if anyone has previous experience with using...
Finally not ashamed of this end of the garden.
So this is one of the projects I made a year ago and...
Aloe with brown spots
About two months ago, this aloe was in full southern...
nanzjade_z5 MA
Sponsored Products
American Fluorescent | Aria Pendant
$167.20 | YLighting
Narita Media Stand
Cost Plus World Market
Breville Die-cast 2-Slice Toaster
$129.95 | FRONTGATE
Eames: eAlum Thin Pad Office Chair - Mid Back Reproduction
Modern Classics Furniture
$38.00 | Horchow
Snoopy's Dish Salt & Pepper Shakers
$11.49 | zulily
Deep Bronze 4 1/2" Wide LED Step Light
Euro Style Lighting
Hopson Leather Corner Chair - Brighton Soul White White
Joybird Furniture
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™