Crassula ovata and Portulacaria afra are two distinct species of succulent plants that are frequently mistaken for each other due to their similar appearance. However, a closer look reveals some key differences between them. Read on and you’ll easily be able to tell the two apart!
One of the primary differences between the two plants is their growth habit. Crassula ovata is a self-supporting shrub or small tree that can grow up to 10 feet tall, while Portulacaria afra is a trailing plant that can reach up to 6 feet in length and may require support. This means that Portulacaria afra’s branches can droop and bend over time, whereas Crassula ovata can maintain a more upright growth pattern because it has thicker, sturdier branches.
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Another distinguishing feature is the leaves of each plant. Crassula ovata has thicker, fleshy, oval-shaped leaves that grow in opposite pairs along the stem, while Portulacaria afra has smaller, thinner, oval-shaped leaves that grow in clusters. Crassula ovata also has woodier brown bark, while Portulacaria afra has red stems.
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Crassula ovata is native to South Africa, while Portulacaria afra is native to Mozambique and South Africa. Both plants are relatively easy to care for and can be grown either indoors or outdoors. They require bright, indirect sunlight and well-draining soil. However, Crassula ovata is more drought-tolerant than Portulacaria afra, so it can be watered less frequently.
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Despite their differences, both Crassula ovata and Portulacaria afra are popular choices for succulent gardens and terrariums. Crassula ovata is commonly referred to as the ‘Jade Plant’, while Portulacaria afra is often called the ‘Elephant Bush’.
Are there any differences in how to care for Crassula ovata ‘Jade Plant’ and Portulacaria afra ‘Elephant Bush’?
Crassula ovata ‘Jade Plant’ and Portulacaria afra ‘Elephant Bush’ have similar light and soil needs, but there are some slight differences in their care:
Watering: Crassula ovata is more drought-tolerant and needs less frequent watering. Only water when the soil is dry several inches deep. Portulacaria afra prefers slightly more moisture and should be watered when the top inch or so of soil is dry. In both cases, be sure to never leave them sitting in wet soil.
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Fertilizing: During the growing season, fertilize Crassula ovata every 2-3 months. Portulacaria afra benefits from monthly fertilizing in spring and summer. Use a balanced succulent fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength. Reduce or stop feeding in winter when growth slows.
Pruning: Crassula ovata can be pruned to shape it and remove dead or damaged branches. Portulacaria afra has trailing stems that do not require pruning, but it can be cut back in spring if it becomes bare or leggy.
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Repotting: Watch for roots coming out of the drainage holes, indicating the plant is becoming pot bound. When repotting, move Crassula ovata up one size pot. Portulacaria afra can remain in the same pot size but replace old soil. Use cactus potting mix for both plants.
Temperature: Crassula ovata and Portulacaria afra thrive in similar warm temperatures, ranging from 65-80 F. Bring them indoors if temperatures drop below 50 F. Provide lots of light for both succulents indoors.
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Overall, despite their similarities, it is important to tailor watering, fertilizing, and other care to the specific needs of Crassula ovata and Portulacaria afra. With time, you will get to know the unique requirements of your succulents and be able to keep them healthy and thriving.
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For more succulents that are hard to tell apart, click here.