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Products > Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla
Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla - Large Leaf Elephant Food
Image of Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Succulent
Family: Didiereaceae
Origin: South Africa (Africa)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Pink & White
Bloomtime: Summer
Synonyms: [P. afra 'Mammoth', Hort.]
Height: 8-12 feet
Width: 6-8 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30 F
Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla (Large Leaf Elephant Food) - An upright growing plant to 8 to 12 feet tall with thick reddish brown stems and 1 inch long emerald green leaves. This plant is similar to the more common typical Portulacaria afra but with leaves about twice the size and more widely spaced. As with the other forms, this plant really needs drier conditions than Southern California usually has to reliably produce flowers but after a dry winter, and where plants are not irrigated, it can produce tiny very pale pin and white flowers in summer - much lighter colored than other cultivars of the species. After 3 years of drought most forms of Portulacaria afra, including this one, flowered in Santa Barbara in 2015.

Plant in sun or shade with little or no supplemental irrigation. As might be expected from the origins of this plant, it is a little less hardy than the typical smaller leaf form, which seem to be able to handle to at least 25 F - side by side the small leaf form was untouched in our January 2013 freeze at 27 F but this larger form had all of its tip growth frozen. It is a great drought tolerant shrub in near frost-free locations for screening or just for its interesting red stems and green foliage.

Portulacaria afra is native to South Africa where it grows in warm site on rocky slopes with other succulents in the eastern parts of South Africa but this large form comes from the northerly part of the species range from the Limpopo Province and further north into Mozambique and the plant is sometimes referred to as Limpopo form and we have noticed that some market this plant using the cultivar name 'Mammoth. In Hermann Jacobson's A Handbook of Succulent Plants: Descriptions, Synonyms and Cultural Details for Succulents Other than Cactaceae published in 1960 he describes Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla with larger leaves that are 25 mm (1 inch) long by 17 mm (21/32 inch) wide. The genus name is a combination of Portulaca (a genus name) and 'arius' meaning "pertaining to" in reference to the similarity of the genus to the genus Portulaca which itself come from the Latin word 'portula' meaning a small door in reference to the fruits which open with a small lid. More recent molecular phylogenetic studies have indicated that this genus should rightfully be place in the Didiereaceae, which was otherwise entirely found in Madagascar. The specific epithet is in reference to the plants coming from Africa. Though usually commonly called Elephant Food, another common name is Porkbush. Both names come from the fact that the leaves are edible with a sour flavor, and it is widely browsed by wild and domestic animals. It has been used to bind soil to prevent erosion and is noted as a very efficient plant for absorbing atmospheric carbon (CO2) and has been described as a "carbon sponge", using both the more common C-3 pathway for carbon fixation in the photosynthesis process and when the temperatures rise can also use the Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) pathway that is found in many other succulents.

Besides this form of the species we also grow the species Portulacaria afra and the following cultivars: Portulacaria afra 'Low Form' a prostrate form green leaves, Portulacaria afra 'Skyscraper' - a narrow upright form, Portulacaria afra 'Cork Bark' - a corky bark form great for bonsai use, Portulacaria afra 'Aurea' - a large plant with yellow new growth, Portulacaria afra 'Variegata' - an upright plant with white variegated leaves and Portulacaria afra 'Medio-picta' a stunning low growing plant with pink stems and leaves that have a wide central cream stripe. All are great drought tolerant plants useful in the landscape or as container specimens. Our original plants of this and many other forms of Portulacaria afra came to us from Stockton succulent plant collector Alice Waidhofer but we also thank Robin Stockwell of Succulent Gardens for supplying us with enough plants to get this plant into production. We have sold this interesting larger succulent shrub since 2014. 

This information about Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.