It is a soft-wooded, semi-evergreen upright shrub or small tree, usually 2.5–4.5 metres (8–15 ft) tall. It is sometimes confused with Crassula ovata (Jade plant), which it is not closely related to. Portucalaria Afra is much hardier, faster growing, more loosely branched, and has more limber tapering branches than Crassula once established.


In the wilds of South Africa, large plants do survive the winter frosts by growing dense enough to provide their own natural cover. Drought-tolerant and fire-resistant, it will endure desert sun and heat once established, which the jade plant will not. P. afra is a common landscape plant in Phoenix, Arizona, and southern California, growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 9-11. Cuttings root very easily in most potting media. P. afra is capable of either C3 or CAM carbon fixation, depending on factors such as the season and the age of the leaves. In the dry season, it relies on the CAM pathway due to the lack of water, but when water is reintroduced, the plant quickly reverts to the C3 pathway in order to conserve energy.  The maturity of the leaf tissue also matters because younger tissue is unable to completely seal the stomata, making CAM impossible. So while the older leaves are able to switch pathways based on the season and conditions, the younger leaves have to rely solely on the C3 pathway. It can sequester a maximum of 15.4 t CO2 ha−1yr−1.