Growing Spekboom

Addo elephant eating spekboom

Last week I had the great pleasure of taking cuttings from spekboom from a garden where a diversity of carbon sequestration plants grow in abundance. I prefer this way of sourcing spekbbom plants for it creates a virtuous cycle of sharing that supports the sustainability of the earth at many levels.

Given that June is World Environment Month and the theme for World Environment Day (5 June 2019) was Beat Air Pollution it pleased me to have taken time to do this work of harvesting spekboom cuttings on the 4th and potting some of these on the 5th.

Why invest in Spekboom?

  • Spekboom is the top carbon sequestration plant (10-50 tonnes per hectare per year), or one mature plant creates enough fresh air for one person for 80 years!
  • It is fire resistant
  • It is drought resistant
  • Some suggest that it deters termites
  • It is evergreen
  • People are beginning to associate it with environmental responsibility and carbon credits or perhaps reducing carbon tax

(It is however frost sensitive and best planted against a warm sunny wall or in a bed where it can cosy up between other plants in winter. This winter has been very mild so the spekboom is doing well.)

Common Names: Porkbush, Elephant’s Food (English); Spekboom. Olifantskos (Afrikaans); iNtelezi, isiDondwane, isAmbilane, iNdibili, isiCococo (isiZulu); iGqwanitsha (isiXhosa).

Propagation: Spekboom is easy to propagate from 8cm cuttings

Height: Grows up to 3m in height and can be clipped to make a hedge.

Nutritional value: Magnesium, manganese, cobalt, iodine, selenium. Spekboom can be added to salads, soups or pickled.

Medicinal uses:

Chew leaf: sore throat, mouth infections

Leaf held in mouth: thirst quenching, helps over-exhaustion, heatstroke and dehydration

Juice from leaves: on spots, pimples, rashes, insect stings

Fodder plant: The favourite food of elephants in the Addo Elephant park. Goats also find it delicious.

 

Types of spekboom

Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) is endemic to the Eastern Cape’s Spekboom ‘thicket’ biome. This type is the most common one planted in Johannesburg and sold in many nurseries.

The Large Leaved Spekboom is from Limpopo.

The dwarf spekboom is from rocky hillsides in Namaqualand.

As soon as I have a base from which to sell spekboom, I will let you know. Just as a warning, I usually feel the need to only do so as part of a workshop on Permaculture Ethics, or an Inter-spiritual Retreat or both! Yet I might ease up on this too.

In fact, I have been going from business to business spreading the word about PSHB and writing up planting proposals for spekboom planting. I have had no success yet, possibly because I haven’t followed up with potential clients. And perhaps because I had a tendency to say “you can save on costs if you do it yourself…” (I really mostly like giving people ideas as a way of motivating them to get into planting action. Still, my passion for purifying the air  goes beyond this, it includes a desire to help people start or refine businesses so that they align with earth sustainability.)

Spekboom and Forests

Despite its wonderful benefits I regard spekboom as an emergency plant to grow air while sequestering carbon. It does not, in my opinion, mean that we can diminish the importance of the Amazon Forest or other natural forests. It should not make us complacent about protecting our urban forests. It is not a substitute for planting more trees in Johannesburg. It is not the answer to the PSHB challenge we face; it is simply one significant plant which serves to buy time while we work out what trees are most likely to be PSHB resistant.

To this end I contacted the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) yesterday to ask them to look into the matter and make recommendations. (I wish to thank Dr Duncan MacFadyen of the Grassland Society of Southern Africa for suggesting that SANBI would be a useful contact to make. He has been generous in sharing much of what he knows regarding PSHB and in guiding some of my research efforts, for which I am grateful.)

 

Rehabilitating Spekboom Thickets

Samara Private Game Reserve aspires to rehabilitate the Great Karoo landscape. While I don’t usually recommend projects I have no personal experience of I am making an exception for this one, which I came across while browsing the internet. If you would like to support their efforts visit: https://www.samara.co.za/blog/five-things-didnt-know-spekboom/

 

RESOURCES

Information on thicket biomes: http://pza.sanbi.org/portulacaria-afra