What Is Spekboom?
Spekboom (Portulacaria Afra), also known as the Pork Bush or Elephant's Food, is an indigenous South African plant making big waves on the local conservation scene. An incredibly hardy plant, Spekboom is mainly found in the Eastern Cape. Flourishing in semi-arid conditions, this plant can live for up to 200 years and grow as tall as five metres.
However, the most exciting attribute of this leafy succulent is its ability to gobble up carbon dioxide. There have been claims that Spekboom thicket is 10 times more effective at carbon fixing than tropical rain forests. This has been refuted by fact checking site AfricaCheck. Nevertheless, Spekboom still has good carbon dioxide absorbing qualities - absorbing 2.9 to 8.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.
Fun fact: The Spekboom plant only requires 250 - 350ml of water per year to survive!
In late 2019, the #SpekboomChallenge overtook social media. Championed by farmers in the Eastern Cape, the challenge encourages all South Africans to grow their own Spekboom plants. Whether you uproot water guzzling plants from your garden in favour of the water-wise Spekboom or decorate your home with a few potted plants, the purpose of the #SpekboomChallenge is to decrease carbon emissions across the country.
With the challenge sweeping across South Arica, experts caution not to plant Spekboom in fragile ecosystems. This happened when a well-intentioned Capetonian planted Spekboom in critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos. In this habitat, Spekboom could potentially outcompete the already rare flora and would not have any increased climate change mitigating potential than natural vegetation.
Even in regions where Spekboom is indigenous, it should never be planted in natural veld without consulting a rehabilitation specialist.
Planting Spekboom in your garden, however, is a great move! Growing your own Spekboom is as easy as breaking off a shoot of the plant and potting it in some well-drained soil. Ensure that your plant gets enough sunshine and it should maintain its bright green appearance for years to come.
However, even if you have a black thumb, this plant is almost impossible to kill. Spekboom can easily adapt to changing weather conditions, perfect for the unpredictable Joburg climate. In cool conditions, Spekboom photosynthesises like other plants, opening its stomata during the day to absorb carbon dioxide. During drier times, the plant has the ability to open its stomata at night, preventing water loss during the heat of the day. It is this nifty ability to absorb carbon dioxide even during the evenings that makes this plant so very special.
Do Your Bit For The Environment
On Sunday, 02 February 2020, the City of Cape Town announced that it would commit to planting 5000 Spekboom in April of this year to coincide with National Climate Change Month and World Earth Day (22 April). Partnering with the Newlands Nursery, the city has pledged to plant shoots of the wonder plant at various spaces across Cape Town, hopefully encouraging residents to take up the #Spekboom challenge themselves.
Now, we wouldn't be good Joburgers if we didn't aim to outdo our Cape competitors. Let's band together in the run up to World Earth Day and take on the #Spekboom challenge. Here's where you can get your hands on this green gem in the city:
Sandton City and Eastgate Shopping Centre
Two of Joburg's most popular shopping destinations, Sandton City and Eastgate Shopping Centre, will be hosting the 'Plant Your Love' activation in February. This initiative is all about taking on the #Spekboom challenge and showing the earth a little love during Valentine's month. Visit either of these malls for an informative talk by WWF on the wonders of the Spekboom plant between 13 - 15 February 2020. Plus, when you spend R350 or more at these malls you will receive your own Spekboom plant to take home.
Pop into your nearest Woolworths to get yourself a cute Spekboom pot plant. These are the perfect decor item for your home or city apartment, adding both a pop of natural colour and brain-boosting oxygen to your home.
Did you know that Spekboom is edible? A favourite snack of elephants, the leaves of this plant taste similar to zesty lemon and can be eaten by humans, too. Check out this mouthwatering Tomato and Spekboom Salad recipe to get started.
So there you have it, all you need to know about the humble Spekboom and its many fantastic properties. Are you ready to take on the #Spekboom challenge, Joburg?
And, if you are serious about transforming your garden into an eco-conscious ecosystem, check out our article on the best water-wise plants to add to your garden.