ISI 2015-38. Portulacaria afra ‘Cork Bark’

Portulacaria afra is one of the most versatile of succulents. It can be used as a hedge, shaped into topiary or even made into bonsai. With the look of a miniature jade plant, this portulaca relative is better suited to bonsai treatment than the coarser leaved Crassula ovata. ‘Cork Bark’ is even better for bonsai with the added attraction of fissured, corky bark. It was selected by bonsai practitioner Dave Bogan and apparently first appeared in a Florida nursery in the 1960s. At first it was thought to have some sort of fungal disease. A heavy application of pesticide nearly eradicated the “problem” by killing most of the plants. Fortunately, one survived until the nursery went out of business and the plant made its way into Dave’s appreciative hands. Diligent shaping and training requires regular pruning (as often as monthly pinching to accentuate the horizontal branching structure). As a result of its easily rooted cuttings, this plant is starting to appear in other bonsai collections. Bright light and lean conditions seem to promote the best fissured bark but also considerable patience. One of our local bonsai enthusiasts, Frank Yee, rooted up a batch of cuttings a couple of years ago that are on their way to becoming show-worthy specimens which we are now able to make available here. However, Frank’s specimen has been in training for more than 40 years and is something to aspire to. As with traditional bonsai, these specimens can become horticultural heirlooms passed on to the next generation. Rooted cuts of HBG 122812. $10.

overview of younger plant

Photo © 2015 by Karen Zimmerman. Images may not be used elsewhere without permission.

Published in the Cactus and Succulent Journal, Vol. 87 (3), May - June, 2015