Elephant Bush Vs Jade Plant

You’ve probably seen these beautiful green succulents that look like mini trees appear on your social media feed.

These two plants, the Elephant Bush and Jade plant, may look very similar at first glance, but they are, in reality, two completely different types of succulents from different families. The Elephant Bush (or Portucalaria afra) has smaller leaves, and the stems have a reddish, almost purple hue.

Read on to learn more about these unique plants and how to distinguish them.

Elephant Bush Or Spekboom (Portucalaria afra

The Elephant Bush is a perennial soft wooded semi-evergreen succulent shrub endemic to South Africa. Although you can find Spekboom all over South Africa as it’s such a much-loved plant, it’s primarily found in rocky places in the semi-desert areas and bushveld.

It goes by various names; however, the most common ones are Spekbook, Dwarf Jade, Pork Bush, or Portucalaria afra (Pronunciation: por-tew-luh-KAR-ee-uh AFruh).

The Elephant Bush gets its name from the elephants that like to feast on it as well as other wildlife. In South Africa, the Elephant Bush also goes by different names depending on the speaker’s mother tongue.

This plant starts out as a small bush but can grow into a sprawling shrub or small tree. As the plant matures, the trunk continues to thicken. The trunk has a glossy, red-brown, almost purple color.

In nature, you’ll find that the Spekboom is usually 8-15 ft (2.5-5 meters) tall. While it can get this big, it’s also often kept as bonsai due to its appearance as a mini tree.

The leaves have a circular shape, and the color ranges from pale grey to bright green. The size of the leaves is roughly that of your fingernail. Nevertheless, the less common Limpopo variety, has leaves that are almost double in size.

When the Portucalaria afra is in full bloom, it sports soft pink flowers at the ends of the branches. After flowering, you’ll see small three-winged fruits in their places.

There are different types of Portucalaria afra, although only specialty nurseries will stock all of them.

If you are in the market for a particular one, be sure to do your research upfront and double-check the plant at the nursery, as some mislabeling is common.

This guide on the Elephant Bush plant provides an excellent overview of some of the most common variegated types on the market. As is usually the case with variegated plants, they are a bit less robust than the green ones and a bit smaller on average.

The Elephant Bush is increasing in popularity not just for its beauty or ease of growing but its ability to act as a carbon sponge. Studies have proven that it’s able to store over 4 tons of carbon per hectare thereby creating a “carbon sink.” So, a hectare of Spekboom is more effective than a hectare of the amazon rainforest at removing carbon dioxide.

Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)

You may know the Jade Plant as the money plant, money tree, or even lucky plant. Like the Spekboom, it’s native to South Africa and roughly even grows in the same areas.

It’s a very popular houseplant, and you can recognize it by its oval-shaped fleshy leaves and thick woody stems that look like miniature tree trunks. However, new stems are still green and succulent and will only turn brown as they mature.

The leaves are approximately 1 to 3½ inches long and ¾ to 1½ inches wide. The width of leaves ranges from ¾ to 1½ inches. The leaves are usually clustered together towards the end of the branches instead of being spaced out along the branch.

If a Jade Plants gets enough light, you’ll be able to spot a bit of red on the edges of the leaves. If conditions are right, the mature plant will also flower and produce rounded clusters of small white or pink flowers during the growing season.

Similarities Between Elephant Bush And Jade Plant

The Elephant Bush and Jade Plant share a lot of similarities, making them pretty hard to tell apart.

For one, they are both succulents that come roughly from the same regions in South Africa, and their ideal growing conditions are the same.

The biggest similarity lies in the fleshy green leaves, which are often of the same color. There are no specific colors or patterns that help the untrained eye tell these two plants apart.

Tips To Tell Them Apart

It’s hard to tell them apart at first, but once you’ve seen plenty of Spekboom plants, the difference between the elephant and jade plant can be seen immediately.

The Elephant Bush has smaller and rounder leaves. The leaves of the Jade plant are more oval-shaped. Hence the name Crassula ovata as “ovata” means oval-shaped.

The Elephant Bush has more compact growth due to shortened internodal spaces, down to 0.059 in (1.5 millimeters). Internodes are the spaces between the plant’s nodes. It’s also much hardier than the Jade Plant, overall, also growing faster with more loose branches and limber tapering branches once matured.

When a Jade plant is still small, the stem will be green and succulent until the plant matures. The stem of the Portucalaria afra, in turn, will already be red or have a purple or reddish hue to it.

As these two plants grow, the Jade plant is able to support itself better, whereas the Elephant plant grows in a more droopy fashion. However, if you keep it as a houseplant, it may need support to remain upright.

Not only do elephants eat Spekboom, but it’s entirely safe for humans to eat as well. Spekboom makes for an interesting addition to salads, a gin cocktail, and it can even be made into chutney. The jade plant, however, is not edible. It’s even classified as mildly poisonous to humans upon ingestion and even more toxic to pets.

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