Elephant Tree Plant Care – How to Grow Operculicarya Decaryi

Elephant Tree Plant Care and Growing Guide

Last Updated on October 31, 2021 by Phil

If you’re looking for a small tree or something that’s can be an alternative to bonsais, then consider the elephant tree.

They are known for their unique look and somewhat odd yet intriguing-looking trunk. Thus, making them interesting conversational pieces when you have guests over.

Here’s how to care for and grow elephant trees indoors.

About Elephant Trees

Elephant Tree Plant Care and Growing Guide

source: Flickr

Elephant trees are native to Madagascar. As such, they’re used to warm weather, which over time has them to become drought tolerant.

There, they grow up to 30 feet tall. But, when cultivated, they only get up to 1 to 3 feet tall. In many cases, they’re also grown as bonsai trees.

While they’re not as popular as some other plants, they’re not uncommon.

That’s because they are easy to grow as houseplants.

Just as importantly, they’re also grown for their very unique look.

The plant gets its name due to its thick, winding, gray-colored trunk. Its look is unusual, but also unique and interesting. Add to that the arching branches that are adorned with small green leaves.

They likewise produce red flowers and round, orange fruits.

While they may not seem like it. These small trees are succulents. And, they’re relatives of mangoes, cashews, and pistachios.


Elephant Tree Plant Care

How to Grow & Care for Elephant Tree

source: Wikimedia

Elephant Tree Light

Elephant trees thrive in sunny locations. They do best when given full or partial sun.

This makes them excellent candidates for windows that are facing the south, east, and west where they’re able to receive a lot of sunlight.

You can likewise grow them outdoors provided that your winters don’t get too cold. This will allow them to all the sun they desire. Or, if you live in cooler climate areas, leave them out during the summers.

As long as they get enough light, they’re happy. On the other hand, lack of light causes them to become leggy.


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Elephant Tree Temperature & Humidity

As with other succulents, elephant trees are accustomed to warm, dry conditions.

Thus, they do best when the temperature stays above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they can withstand up to 40 degrees. So, if the winters in your area are colder than that, it’s a good idea to bring them indoors between November and February.

In general, these tiny trees will shed their leaves during the winter. This is especially true in cooler areas. But, if you keep them warm enough, they might be able to keep some of their foliage.

This is why you’ll see these unique plants thrive outdoors in USDA zones 9 and above. For everyone else, they’ll need to be sheltered from the cold as houseplants or only taken outside during the warmer months.

That said, elephant trees aren’t fussy about humidity. They adjust to a wide range. So, there’s no need to take any extra actions to increase humidity around them much like other houseplants.



When caring for elephant trees, it is very important to consider irrigation.

Since they’re used to dry conditions, they’ve evolved to withstand drought. This makes them perfect for xeriscaping. Or, if you want to grow a garden that uses low amounts of water.

That said, elephant trees need to be watered regularly during the warmer months. You can allow it to get drier in the winter as it goes dormant.

Also, allow the soil to dry out before watering again. This reduces the risk of overwatering.

When you do hydrate it, you want to water slowly until it starts dripping from the bottom drainage hole.

Keeping them in clay pots or something that’s porous also helps keep their roots healthy since it allows excess moisture to seep out.



In their native environments, these trees can grow up to 30 feet tall with a trunk that’s 3 feet wide. But here, you’ll see them either as small trees or grown as bonsais. This makes them perfect for containers. Although, you can still plant them in the ground as well.

Either way, elephant trees need well-draining, slightly acidic soil (pH of 5.0 to 6.0). It is likewise used to sandy soil.



In addition to water, the other important thing to consider when growing elephant trees is fertilizer. These succulents are light to medium feeders. But, to get the most out of them, you need to keep them fed.

This means using a weak fertilizer twice a month during its growing season which runs from spring through fall.


Pruning Elephant Trees

In general, elephant trees don’t need a lot of pruning. They’re small trees that grow quite slowly. So, trimming is mostly done to control its shape and size.

Before you start trimming, it’s important to understand how they grow. This will give you an idea of what to expect. And, where to start pruning.

For these plants, everything starts with their main trunk. This will grow upwards until it reaches a certain height. After that, it will then begin to branch out sideways. This is when and where you’ll prune in order to maintain its form, shape, and size.

If you’re growing it as a bonsai plant, then you’ll likely spend a lot more time trimming. But, otherwise, most of the pruning will be done to keep it neat and nice looking.

The other time you’ll want to prune your elephant tree is if it becomes leggy. This can happen if it’s not getting enough light. Thus, it will stretch towards where the light is, becoming longer and taller.


Elephant Tree Propagation

You can propagate elephant trees via seed and cuttings.

Growing them from seed allows them to develop better roots. It also makes them more interesting to look at since their trunks will have more bumps and lumps.

To do so,

  • Collect the seeds
  • Put them in warm water for 24 hours to soak
  • After soaking, place them in moist sand
  • Since they’re slow growers, you’ll need to practice a lot of patience. This means about 6 months of waiting.

Alternatively, you can likewise propagate them via cuttings.

To do so,

  • Take a few pieces of its tuberous root.
  • You can then place them in water or a soil mixture
  • After 3 weeks or so, you should start seeing small leaves begin to sprout.


When grown in pots, these small trees are fairly slow growers. As such, you don’t need to repot them too often (once every 3 years).

And after a point, they’ll be happy to live in an 8 inch pot for the rest of their lives.

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