The Wonder Plant: Spekboom

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

By Salena Fourie

Spekboom photo sourced from Wikimedia Commons

There is an indigenous evergreen plant that grows in the Eastern Cape, and goes by the scientific name Portulacaria afra. Its layman name is Spekboom, but it has been given many names: Elephants Food, Pork Bush, Dwarf Jade Plant and, most recently, the ‘wonder plant’ - which is inspired by its ability to remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It can get rid of more than 4000 kgs of carbon dioxide per year per hectare; it destroys more carbon dioxide than the Amazon rainforest.

The plant used to cover hectares of land, but is now only found in the area in and around the Addo Elephant Park. It can also be found in the Little Karoo. Times Live has reported that programs, such as the one run by Samara Private Game Reserve, have recently been put in place in the Eastern Cape for its restoration and it is being replanted hectares at a time.

To add to the wonder of Spekboom, it also requires very little maintenance – which means you could probably grow some yourself. It is drought-resistant and can survive on just 250-350mm of water a year, which is very helpful considering South Africa's recurring droughts. It has a photosynthetic mechanism that allows it to adapt to both rainforest-like conditions and semi-arid conditions, making it suitable for various garden types. Stodels says it easily propagated; one simply needs a cutting from a mature spekboom to get one’s own plant growing.

There have been many accounts on how fast this plant grows in the comments section of How Cool is Spekboom? by Sprig. It can be turned into a hedge, a bonsai or used as a large bush; it responds quite well to pruning.

It also has a range of health benefits, and is healthy not only for black rhinos, elephants and kudus, but also for people. Spekboom has a slight citrus taste, is high in Vitamin C and has leaves full of moisture – making it a great treatment for dehydration and exhaustion. It can also be used in salads for a citrus twist.

The high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are definitely threatening the livelihood of our planet. Perhaps the restoration of this ‘wonder plant’ will make a difference. It definitely wouldn’t hurt to have one (or many) planted in your garden.

Spekboom photo sourced from Trail Magazine

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