Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER)

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Portulacaria afra
(L.) Jacq., Portulacaceae
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Present on Pacific Islands?  yes

Primarily a threat at high elevations?  no

Risk assessment results:  Evaluate, score: 5 (Go to the risk assessment).

Other Latin names:  Crassula portulacaria L.

Common name(s): [more details]

English: elephant-bush, miniature jade tree, purslane tree

French: pourpier en arbre

Habit:  shrub/tree

Description:  "This is a stout juicy-stemmed, soft-wooded, semi-evergreen upright shrub or small tree, usually 2.5 to 4.5 or more meters tall. The diameter of the trunk can be 20 cm or more. The leaves and young branches/branch tips are quite phototropic. Older branches, gray, shiny and up to 5 cm thick, will hang down or trail on the ground. Spreading outward, less frequently they will grow erect, especially at the center of the plant. The cylindrical articulate branches break very easily. The top thin layer of bark on lignified branches more than a few years old begins to crack and can peel/flake off unevenly, primarily internodally. New buds and shoots can continually arise along the trunk and branches, and even from the junction of a larger branch and the trunk. This results in multiple diameter and aged branches along a given section of the tree. The branches eventually form a thick network with the bottom most branches being leafless. Branches slightly more exposed to sunlight will hold on to larger pale green or yellowed leaves. Thin inner branches may only have leaf pads at their growing tips. A branch broken at its juncture can continue to grow and thrive if the break occurs on the upper half of the juncture and if, obviously, the branch has not been entirely separated from the trunk or larger branch from which it arose. It has opposite, obovate (egg-shaped), glabrous, very fleshy, blunt green leaves usually less than 1.3 cm long and without a distinct petiole or leaf stem. Less common are some old leaves which can reach at least 2.8 cm in length, up to 2.3 cm in width, and can be rounded, tear-drop, or triangular in shape. These largest leaves sometimes show a rudimentary petiole 2.5 mm wide at the branch juncture and up to 2 mm long into the leaf. If there is a petiole present, it curves slightly towards the bottom side of the leaf. New leaves arise 90 degrees to the previous pair and are lighter green in color. The middle of the outer edge of young leaves shows a tiny pointed apex. Sometimes there is a thin faint reddish edge on younger leaves. A faint and sometimes unnoticeable cleft runs down the center of the leaf from the base to the outer tip. This feature occasionally results in heart-shaped leaves having the center of the apex drawn in. Once a green leaf has this shape it will not revert to obovate, and vice versa. Without visible external veins, the leaves appear to be covered with a fine grain pattern of pores on both sides. The largest leaves may have a secondary, less distinct but larger pore pattern which overlays the leaf surface top and bottom. The pores appear to be up to ten or so per square millimeter, arranged in a not random fashion. Definitely not in columns and rows, they are not quite as patterned as the pores in the whorls of a fingerprint. Growing conditions can make the leaves shiny with the appearance of being barely dusted with silver. A thin transparent layer covers both the top and bottom of each leaf. The flowers are pink/rose/lilac-colored, 2 to 2.5 mm long and short-pedicelled. They are clustered in the upper leaf axil, the point at which the stalk or branch diverge from the stem or axis to which it is attached. The flower is panicled, that is, with a loose, open flower cluster, approximately 5 to 7.5 cm in length, which blooms from the center or bottom toward the edges or top of it. The main stalk or stem, the axis, of the plant is never terminated by a flower. The bisexual flower has two conspicuous persistent sepals which are papery but become stiff, five persistent petals, four to seven stamens, a four or five lobed short corolla tube, and a three-angled superior one-chambered ovary, angles winged and deeply tinged with red, with three stigmas, sessile, spreading, densely muricate above, white. The berry-like fruit is pinkish, small, light, dry, indehiscent, transparent, about 5 mm long, 3-winged, 1-seeded, scarcely or tardily splitting. Usually borne in abundance in drooping catkins, the seeds give the tree the appearance of a second flowering" (adapted from "Portulacaria afra: A Monograph-Part One" by Robert J. Baran, posted on the ofBonsai Magazine website).

Habitat/ecology:  "Requires good drainage, like full sun or light shade, thrives in an average soil"  (Staples & Herbst, 2005; p. 467).

Propagation:  Seed

Native range:  Southern Africa; also cultivated (GRIN).

Presence:

Pacific
Country/Terr./St. &
Island group
Location Cited status &
Cited as invasive &
Cited as cultivated &
Cited as aboriginal introduction?
Reference &
Comments
Chile (offshore islands)
Juan Fernández Islands
Isla Más a Tierra (Robinson Crusoe Island) introduced
cultivated
Danton, Philippe/Perrier, Christophe/Martinez Reyes, Guido (2006) (p. 494)
Ecuador (Galápagos Islands)
Santa Cruz Group
Santa Cruz Island introduced
cultivated
Charles Darwin Foundation (2008)
French Polynesia
Society Islands
Tahiti Island introduced
cultivated
Florence, J./Chevillotte, H./Ollier, C./Meyer, J.-Y. (2013)
French Polynesia
Tuamotu Archipelago
Makatea (Ma‘atea) Island introduced
cultivated
Florence, J./Chevillotte, H./Ollier, C./Meyer, J.-Y. (2013)
State of Hawaii
Hawaiian Islands
Kaua‘i Island   Bishop Museum (U.S.A. Hawaii. Honolulu.) (1990) (voucher ID: BISH 571900)
Taxon name on voucher: Portulacaria afra (L.) Jacq.
State of Hawaii
Hawaiian Islands
O‘ahu Island   Bishop Museum (U.S.A. Hawaii. Honolulu.) (1941) (voucher ID: BISH 63784)
Taxon name on voucher: Portulacaria afra (L.) Jacq.
New Caledonia
New Caledonia Archipelago
Île Grande Terre introduced
cultivated
MacKee, H. S. (1994) (pp. 112-113)
Vouchers cited: MacKee 20667, Suprin in MacKee 41803
Pacific Rim
Country/Terr./St. &
Island group
Location Cited status &
Cited as invasive &
Cited as cultivated &
Cited as aboriginal introduction?
Reference &
Comments
Singapore
Singapore
Singapore (Republic of) introduced
cultivated
Chong, Kwek Yan/Tan, Hugh T. W./Corlett, Richard T. (2009) (p. 72)


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This page was created on 10 AUG 2011 and was last updated on 19 AUG 2011.