Operculicarya Elephant Tree Care: How To Grow An Elephant Tree

The elephant tree (Operculicarya decaryi) gets its common name from its gray, gnarled trunk. The thickened trunk bears arching branches with tiny glossy leaves. Operculicarya elephant trees are natives of Madagascar and very easy to grow as houseplants. Read on for information about growing elephant trees as well as tips on elephant tree care.

Elephant Tree Plant Info

The elephant tree plant is a small tree in the Anacardiaceae family. It is a succulent related to cashews, mangos, and pistachios. The trees are eye catching with their thick twisted trunks, zigzagging branches, and tiny forest green leaflets tinged red in cool weather. Those growing elephant trees say that mature plants bear red flowers and round, orange fruit.

Operculicarya elephant trees grow in the wild in southwest Madagascar and are drought deciduous. In their native range, the trees grow to 30 feet (9 m.) tall, and the trunks expand to 3 feet (1 m.) in diameter. However, cultivated trees stay considerably shorter. It’s even possible to grow a bonsai elephant tree.

How to Grow an Elephant Tree

If you are interested in growing elephant trees outdoors, be sure your region is a warm one. These trees only thrive in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 or higher.

You’ll want to plant them in a sunny area, either in full or partial sun. The soil should be well-draining. You can also grow elephant trees in containers. You’ll want to use a well-draining potting soil and place the pot in a window where it gets regular sunlight.

Elephant Tree Care

What is involved in elephant tree care? Irrigation and fertilizer are the two main tasks. You’ll need to learn the ins and outs of watering elephant trees to help these plants thrive. Trees growing outside in soil only require occasional watering in the growing season and even less in winter.

For container plants, water more regularly but allow the soil to dry out completely in between. When you do water, do it slowly and continue until water trickles out of the drain holes.

Fertilizer is also part of the tree’s care. Use a low-level fertilizer like a 15-15-15. Apply it monthly during the growing season.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.