Characteristics of Jade Tree (Portulacaria afra) in the Wild

Portulacaria afra
Jade is a small leafy succulent plant originating from South Africa. This plant generally has reddish-green stems and leaves. However, many jade cultivars have a variety of colors.

Jade tree is often used as an ornamental plant, it is also very easy to care for because it is easy to grow in sunny tropical locations. In foreign countries, Jade trees are referred to as Dwarf Jade Plant, Elephant Bush, Porkbush, and Spekboom trees.

Jade trees often grow at corners of rocks in eastern South Africa, they are rarely found in damp areas. The tree is also found in several locations, such as south of Cape Dyer. There he grew from Little Karoo in the Western Cape, eastward to bush vegetation in the Eastern Cape.

The most common location for fertile jade is in the Albany bush, a forest ecoregion, locally called Noorsveld.

In the wild of South Africa, jade trees can grow as tall as 2-3 meters and grow many branches to make it a large dense bush. The tree is very resistant to drought and fire, it can also withstand the scorching sun desert heat.

Jade is a popular ornamental plant and bonsai subject. There are several varieties cultivated such as:

  • Portulacaria afra ‘Aurea’ – The most compact, upright shape with round leaves that are bright yellow when getting enough sunlight.
  • Portulacaria afra ‘Limpopo’ – Has much larger leaves.
  • Portulacaria afra ‘Prostrata’ – Has low leaves, almost touching with the ground.
  • Portulacaria afra ‘Medio-picta’ – The shape is diverse, with fewer leaves or tenuous.
  • Portulacaria afra ‘Foliis variegatus’ – The shape is diverse.


Characteristics of Jade Leaf

Portulacaria afra Leaf
Source : and Kim Starr

The leaves are small, bright green, fleshy, and ovoid. As the tree gets older, the leaves will turn yellowish.

Wild elephants in South Africa like to eat jade leaves, and that is why jade trees are also known as “Olifantskos” elephant trees (in English).

Portulacaria afra Flower
Source : and Kim Starr

Elephants in the Eastern Cape, including those in Addo Elephant National Park, can eat up to 200 kg of jade leaves per day.


Characteristics of Jade Tree in the Wild

Portulacaria afra Tree
Source :

Shrubs or small trees, the leaves are always green and have a height of 2-3 meters (rarely 5 meters), and the most common stem diameter is 20-30 cm.

The appearance of the jade tree is very similar to that of its sister called Money Plant (Crassula ovata), although it is from a genus that is not related to the jade tree.

The difference between the jade tree and the crassula ovata is, jade has a smaller, rounder rootstock, and it grows faster. Jade tree trunks are also harder, more branched, and have branches that are more flexible than Crassula ovata.


Jade trees can absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to oxygen. One hectare of the jade tree can convert 4.2 tons of carbon dioxide per year and turn it into oxygen. That means the jade tree is 10 times more effective per hectare than tropical rain forests.

In South Africa, jade trees are usually eaten as a component of salads or soups by local people.


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