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Elephant food is a unique and colorful upright succulent slowly growing 6-8 ft. tall and as wide. Stems and trunks are thick, flexible and deep purple in color. Leaves are medium green, nearly round and occur in pairs on opposite sides of stems; clusters of attractive tiny purple flowers occur in summer.

Elephant food is native to dry climate zones across coastal and inland parts of South Africa and is the only plant within the genus Portulacaria. And, as the common name suggests, it is a popular food of elephants and other range animals. It is well adapted to heat, sun and drought, but is sensitive to heavy frost. In Inland Empire gardens, this plant is commonly used in containers and rock gardens. One cultivar, P. a. 'Variegata', grows with a spreading habit that allows it to spill over the edges of containers and low walls.

Water Needs

Elephant food is well adapted to all parts of the Inland Empire in sunny exposures with normal winter rains and low amounts of summer irrigation. The chart shown below provides a recommended baseline guide to the monthly irrigation schedule and volume of supplemental water needed to maintain healthy growth throughout the average year. It should be noted there are several months indicated by an asterisk (*) when winter rains often provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed. The high and low range of moisture indicates Elephant food can grow with varying amounts of water; little supplemental water is needed during summer following the flowering cycle.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Low Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 1

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
Inches per Month 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 0" to 2" 0" to 2"

Range of supplemental summer water: 7"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-10"

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.

Plant Properties

Plant Type: Succulent
Foliage Character: Succulent
Habit: Upright, Mounding
Growth Rate: Slow
Height: 6 ft. - 8 ft.
Width: 6 ft. - 8 ft.
Water Needs: Low 1
Foliage Color: Medium green
Flower Color: Purple
Flower Season: Summer
Soil Adaptations: Well-draining soil, Rocky soil, Clay
Exposure Adaptations: Wind, Morning sun, Heat, Drought, Aridity, All day sun
Function: Rock gardens, Residential spaces, Raised planters, Foliage accent plant, Container plant


If desired, prune for size control or for cuttings, ideally in spring (D).



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