It is a rare privilege for South Africa to have indigenous “lungs” like the spekboom that can actively reduce our carbon footprint, but it is also our responsibility to start planting these super succulents en masse for future generations.
Meet South Africa’s own succulent superhero: the spekboom (Portulacaria afra). Also known as elephant’s food or pork bush, this humble shrub with its small, rounded leaves and contrasting red stem has become the talk of the town.
Five reasons to get planting
- Breath of fresh air – Spekboom improves the quality of the air we breathe thanks to its ability to absorb up to ten tons of carbon per hectare. Excess carbon in the atmosphere leads to global warming, so the more carbon we can sequester, the better.
- From bonsai to bush – Whether you are looking to grow a hedge or a large bush, a bonsai or groundcover, spekboom can do it all (without costing an arm and a leg). Some varieties grow low to the ground and others can grow as high as 3 to 5 metres.
- Nutritional value – Not only is spekboom a favoured food of rhinos, elephants and kudus, but we can eat it too. With a slightly lemony taste, spekboom leaves are juicy and full of moisture – they are traditionally used to treat exhaustion and dehydration. Don’t be surprised if you find spekboom in your salad next time you visit your favourite restaurant.
- Birds and bees – In late winter and spring, the spekboom produces an abundance of tiny pink flowers, a rich form of nectar for insects. This, in turn, will ensure that your garden is filled with birds.
- Very easy to grow – Spekboom is easily propagated, which is great news for budget gardeners. Simply cut or break off a piece of spekboom, let it dry out for a day or two and stick it in the ground. Give it a little water every few days and you’ll soon have a new spekboom plant of your own. Make sure you don’t give it too much water or it will rot.
Five fast facts about spekboom
- Spekboom is found predominantly in the Eastern Cape, and especially in the semi-arid Karoo region. This drought-resistant plant is ideal for low-maintenance gardens and can survive on just 250 to 350 mm of water a year.
- One mature spekboom can remove 8,5 kg of CO² per year from the atmosphere and can live up to 200 years.
- Hectare for hectare, spekboom thicket is ten times more effective than the Amazon rainforest at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- The elephants of Addo Elephant Park have been known to eat up to 200 kg of this vitamin C-packed plant per day.
- Spekboom can survive frost, fire and drought. While most plants require their stomata to be open during the daytime to absorb carbon dioxide, in dry conditions, the spekboom can open its stomata at night instead, and close them again in the day to avoid loss of water.