The plant of the month for May is Portulacaria Afra and is used in garden design in hot and temperate areas all over the world, and it is also a popular plant for creating bonsai.

Portulacaria Afra is a member of the Portulacaceae family another member of which will be familiar to many readers: purslane, ‘semizotu’ in Turkish, the leaf mixed in with garlic yoghurt to make ‘cacık’.

Portucalaria possibly forms of a genus of one species, but there are several varieties of this plant.

The name Portulacaria is formed from ‘portulaca’ the genus name, and ‘afra’ from Africa where this plant is found in the wild.

Portulacaria afra is a succulent (meaty leaves) shrub.

In the wild it is found in Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique in the foothills of mountains in dry regions. Portulacaria is used in garden design in hot and temperate areas all over the world, and it is also a popular plant for creating bonsai.

Portulacaria afra is an evergreen succulent which can grow as a large shrub or a small tree. In the wild examples up to 5m in height have been found, but plants grown in gardens are unlikely to reach beyond 2m. The small green leaves are round and the stems are reddish in colour.

Small pink star-shaped flowers appear at the end of winter or in early spring. However, in general container grown plants do not flower. Portulacaria can easily be grown from cuttings as seed is often unavailable.

The elephants who live in Addo National Park in South Africa eat Portulacaria afra right down to the soil. This results in tiny plants growing parallel to the soil and forming great masses of ground cover. And this gives the plant one of its common English names ‘Elephant Food’. Apparently the leaves have a somewhat astringent taste which makes them attractive to a number of animals including tortoises.

In South African folk medicine the plant is used to increase milk production in women who are breast feeding. Also the leaves are chewed to overcome tiredness, thirst and compensate for dehydration.

Crushed leaves can be applied to corns or blisters on the feet. Leaves may also be chewed against inflammation in the mouth or throat, and be used against allergic skin reactions and insect bites, to prevent itching.

In the garden Portulacaria can be used as an edging plant or, if trimmed regularly, can form a low hedge. It is especially effective when used in rock or succulent gardens. It can be planted in full sun or part shade, is a natural for dry gardens and, in gardens where regular watering takes place, provided there is good drainage it can also be used.

It must be remembered that this plant is not too frost hardy and in gardens where there is a possibility of hard frost, it should be grown in containers and moved to a frost free environment for the winter. It is a plant that lends itself to bonsai techniques, when it must be grown in a pot.

The Palm Centre, Koycegeiz

For a wide range of special plants visit the areas best nursery, The Palm Centre at Köyceğiz.

It is open daily between 1st June – 31st October but you can visit at any other time by appointment.

Access to plant sales is free but a fee is payable to look around the extensive nursery.

Just ring or email (English is spoken):

E-mail: : palmiyemerkezi@ttnet.net.tr palmiyemerkezi@ttnet.net.tr

Tel : +90 252 262 28 92

Fax : +90 252 262 51 61

Website : http://www.palmiyemerkezi.com

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