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Succulents at San Marcos Growers
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Products > Portulacaria afra 'Skyscraper'
Portulacaria afra 'Skyscraper' - Narrow Elephant's Food

Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Succulent
Family: Didiereaceae
Origin: South Africa (Africa)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Lavender
Bloomtime: Summer
Height: 8-12 feet
Width: 2-3 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Summer Dry: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 25-30 F
Portulacaria afra 'Skyscraper' (Narrow Elephant Food) - An narrow upright growing plant to 8 feet tall or more with reddish brown stems and 1/2 inch long emerald green leaves. In dry years can produce tiny pale lavender flowers in summer months. Plant in sun or shade with little or no supplemental irrigation. Hardy to at least 25 F this plant undamaged was after 3 nights to this temperature in the Januray 2007 freeze. This plant should make and excellent tall growing plant for use as a screen or as a smaller succulent replacement for such narrow upright plants as Italian Buchthorn (Rhamnus alaternus) or even an Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens).

Portulacaria afra 'Skyscraper' is a narrow fastigate selection of this species that we selected from the Portulacaria collection of Stockton succulent collector Alice Waidhofer and named in 2017. Like other Portulacaria selections can be kept almost any size with pruning. This species in native to South Africa where it grows in warm sites on rocky slopes with other succulents in the eastern parts of South Africa from the Eastern Cape northwards into KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga and the Limpopo Province and further north into Mozambique. The genus name is a combination of Portulaca (a genus name) and 'arius' meaning "pertaining to" in reference to the similarity of plants in this genus to those in the genus Portulaca which itself comes from the Latin word 'portula' meaning "a small door" in reference to the fruits which open with a small lid. Long considered to be in the family Portulacaceae, more recent molecular phylogenetic studies have indicated that Portulacaria 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 English name is Porkbush and the Afrikaans name is Spekboom, which translates from two words, 'spek' meaning "bacon" and 'boom' meaning "tree" as Bacon Tree. The names come from the fact that the leaves are edible, though with a sour flavor. It is widely browsed by wild and domestic animals in Africa and while it is touted as a favorite food of elephants, ostriches and cattle and people can consume it, it seems to be less palatable to deer and rabbits in our California gardens go figure.

Portulacaria afra has also 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 cultivar we also grow the typical form of the species Portulacaria afra as well as the following cultivars: Portulacaria afra 'Cork Bark' - a corky bark form great for bonsai use, Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla - a large leafed form, Portulacaria afra 'Low Form' - a prostrate form with green leaves, 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. We haves sold this cultivar since 2017. 

This information about Portulacaria afra 'Skyscraper' 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.