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spekboom – portulacaria afra

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Spekboom –  takes huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the air to grow, and releases oxygen in its place.  Help save the world from global warming by planting these miracle plants!



Spekboom flower 1


Common names:

  • English         Porkbush, Elephant Food
  • Afrikaans      Spekboom
  • Zulu             iNtelezi,   isiDondwane,   isAmbilane, iNdibili, isiCococo
  • Xhoza           iGqwanitsha.

Scientific classification

  • Order           Caryophyllales
  • Family          Portulacaceae     :
  • Genus:         Portulacaria
  • Species:        P. afra

Binomial name    Portulacaria afra (Jacq.)_

Spekboom grows in the hills all around Calitzdorp. After even the lightest rain the Spekboom quickly becomes bright green. In late winter to spring the hills bloom with their pretty pink flowers and in the drier times, they fade to yellowy green. This much overlooked succulent shrub is not unique to the area, but is of great importance to the entire country.


spekboom foliage - niceSpekboom is at last receiving recognition world-wide for its exceptional ability to sequester – or absorb, atmospheric carbon. The plant draws big quantities of carbon dioxide from the air for plant tissue growth and conversion into oxygen.

Atmospheric Carbon, one of the major greenhouse gases, is being pushed into the atmosphere faster than it can be absorbed by the environment, worldwide. Fossil fuel burning, such as power stations and factories, and motor vehicle exhaust emissions are two of the biggest culprits. This excess carbon builds up in the atmosphere trapping the heat of the sun – instead of allowing it to be radiated back out into space – and so we hasten global warming.

Spekboom has enormous carbon-storing capabilities. It is unique in that in wet weather it is able to synthesize much the way rainforest plants do, and yet in dry times when other plants have to shut down and wait for rain, it switches its photosynthetic mechanism to that of a desert plant, continuing to take up huge quantities of carbon.

This makes it highly efficient in all its natural environmental conditions.

Its capacity to offset harmful carbon emissions is just over 4 tons of carbon per hectare per year. Sequestration of ten hectares of spekboom over this period is the equivalent of taking 26 cars off the road for a whole year!

There are various schemes being implemented across the drier parts of the country to reinstate the Spekboom on vast areas of degraded land.  Unemployed people are employed planting spekboom,  erosion is being averted, soil enriched by natural growth cycles and of course atmospheric carbon is being mopped up – helping in the fight against global warming.



spekboom veld sceneIf you don’t have green fingers, or forget to water the plant every now and then, the spekboom doesn’t mind. Calitzdorp rainfall averages 250 ml per year and the spekboom thrives. It can also tolerate a moderate degree of frost, especially when mature. It makes a most attractive, impenetrable hedge and what’s more, it is completely fire-proof!

Spekboom has so many good things going for it – it is an attractive and forgiving succulent shrub for the garden. It can reach 2 – 5 m in height, but in a garden usually reaches 1.5 – 2 m. It has small round bright green succulent leaves and red stems. Masses of small star-shaped pink flowers cover the tree from late winter to spring. The flowers are a rich source of nectar for many insects, which in turn attract insectivorous birds – and spekboom honey is the best!

The leaves, which have a tart sour flavour, can be eaten or added to salads and stews. Sucking a leaf is used to treat heat exhaustion, thirst and dehydration. Crushed leaves provide relief from blisters and corns; chewed leaves help sore throats, mouth infections, pimples, rashes, sunburn and insect bites and traditionally they are also used to increase breast milk in lactating mothers.

Grown very easily from cuttings, anyone can do their bit against climate change. Help offset your personal carbon footprint (you drive a car don’t you?) by planting a spekboom or two in your garden.