Wrinkled Portulacaria Afra Leaves – Causes and Fix

Wrinkled Portulacaria Afra Leaves - Causes and Fix

Portulacaria afra plants are also called elephant bush, dwarf jade plant, spekboom and purslane tree. They have fleshy, glossy leaves and thick, woody stems, and they thrive in warm, draft-free areas with bright light. These perennial succulent shrubs are native to South Africa and can grow from six to 20 feet tall. Elephants are fond of eating these shrubs, hence the nickname, elephant bush. Despite being hardy and low-maintenance, they still have certain requirements in order to thrive, and there are some conditions that could cause their leaves to wrinkle. In this article, we will discuss what causes a portulacaria’s leaves to wrinkle, and how to remedy the problem. 

Wrinkled portulacaria afra leaves – Causes and fix 

1. Underwatering 

Portulacaria afra is a drought-tolerant plant, but if it is not watered for too long, its leaves become shriveled and wrinkled. This means that the water stores in the leaves have been depleted, causing the cells to shrink and giving the leaves their shriveled appearance. The shriveled foliage will be dull and will fall off easily. This is often observed when underwatering is combined with exposure to bright, direct sunlight for several hours daily, or if your area has a particularly hot and dry climate. 

Solution:

If it has been a while since you watered your plant, check the moisture level of the top few inches of soil. If it feels bone dry, your plants are underwatered and should be given a thorough soak as soon as possible. Water the plant until water trickles out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, so that you know the water has reached all of the roots. 

You can also water the plant from the bottom by placing the whole pot in a tub of water, so that water can be soaked up through the drainage hole for at least 30 minutes. Once the top of the soil feels damp, remove the plant from the water and let the excess water drain. This method is effective for severely dehydrated plants, and they can recover in a matter of days. 

You can also check out our earlier article on underwatered succulents for more details on this topic. 

2. Overwatering 

If you water your elephant bush too frequently, it could end up overwatered, which can cause root rot and death of the plant. This situation becomes aggravated in low light conditions and when the temperature is cooler. Other signs that indicate an overwatered plant are yellow, translucent leaves and brown and mushy stems. The leaves may also fall off easily and the soil will be soggy.

Solution:

Water the plants once every two weeks, and only if the top one or two inches of soil are completely dry. Water less during winter or in a low light environment, since in these conditions the soil takes longer to dry out. 

If the overwatering has gone on for some time, you may need to remove the affected plant from its pot and wash the soil off the roots to inspect them more closely for rot. Remove any dark brown or black roots that are rotten and mushy. Wash the scissors after use to avoid the spread of rot to other plants. Clean the pot with soap and warm water and fill it with fresh potting soil. Add gravel or perlite to increase the drainage and prevent water retention. Try to use terracotta pots and ensure that they have drainage holes. 

Trim off any damaged leaves and plant the elephant bush in the fresh soil. Place it in a location where there is good air flow and bright sun to help the soil dry out fast enough after watering. Reduce your watering going forward, and always make sure the top few inches of soil are dry before you water the plant again. 

Check out our earlier article on signs of overwatering succulents for a more detailed discussion about overwatering.

3. Too much sunlight

Wrinkled elephant bush leaves could also be due to overexposure to sunlight. Brown spots may appear on the leaves and the plant may also suffer from sunburn. This usually happens if your plant is placed outdoors during summer and exposed to bright light for too many hours per day. 

Solution:

Move the plant to areas where there is bright but indirect light. Avoid exposing it to the harsh afternoon sun during summer. 

Your Portulacaria afra should be properly watered to allow it to flourish and grow healthily. The frequency of watering will depend on factors such as your local climate and weather conditions, the season of the year, the pot size and soil type, and the humidity and ventilation around the plant. Ideally, it should be watered every one to two weeks in summer and every three to four weeks during winter. 

Check the top few inches of soil before you water the plant to ascertain whether it really does need watering. If so, soak the plant until water pours out of the drainage holes. Never let the roots sit in stagnant water or soggy soil and allow the top of the soil to dry completely before watering the plant again. 

Succulents like elephant bush plants prefer to be infrequently soaked. Do not mist them or allow their leaves to stay wet, as this could cause root rot. Select a well-draining succulent soil mix and add gravel or perlite for optimal drainage.

Conclusion 

Portulacaria afra plants are also called elephant bush or dwarf jade plants, and are popular as houseplants. They are native to South Africa and thrive in hot, desert-like areas. These plants may develop wrinkled leaves due to underwatering, overwatering or too much sunlight. To correct this problem, you need to give them a good soak until water trickles from the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, and move them to an area with less direct sunlight if the cause of the wrinkling was overexposure to sunlight. 

Water the plants every one to two weeks during summer and every three to four weeks during winter. 

Image: istockphoto.com / soniabonet