What is a Spekboom – Portulacaria Afra?

You are perhaps wondering what is going to happen to humanity as time passes on. The world is changing around us. Climate change has certainly started to take effect on earth, and slowly but surely, we are beginning to notice changes to the environment around us. This may lead you to ponder and think about what we can do to reverse the effect of climate change? Is it too late? There may be a little plant that could be a game-changer in the fight against climate change and that is the Spekboom. What is the spekboom tree and how can it help us? What is a Spekboom – Portulacaria Afra?

A Spekboom is a South African Shrub with succulent leaves and a reddish stem, that is not only edible but has many fantastic characteristics. This plant is also known as Portulacaria afra, Elephant Bush, Dwarf Jade Plant, Pork bush, purslane tree, Kudu Bush and Spekboom.

This is a plant that also has fantastic carbon dioxide absorption properties. In fact, one spekboom can absorb between four to ten tons of carbon per hectare. This incredible tree utilizes carbon dioxide and converts that into plant matter and more importantly – Oxygen.

What is a Spekboom - Portulacaria Afra?
What is a Spekboom – Portulacaria Afra?

Perhaps this is mother nature giving us just what we need at the right time to save our planet. But what is the spekboom used for? Why are many deeming this plant a ‘miracle plant’? Where does it come from? Let’s discuss some of these questions in further detail.

Why Is Spekboom (Dwarf Jade Plant) So special?

As mentioned earlier, this succulent tree has fantastic carbon absorption properties. This plant is able to drastically lower carbon emissions as it utilizes photosynthesis at night. This definitely catches our attention when it comes to lowering CO2 levels.

For those of you who perhaps didn’t take biology at school – photosynthesis is the process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize nutrients from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a by-product. So, the greener, the more the healthier the tree, the more oxygen the plant produces.

The spekboom is quite unique in that it stores solar energy to perform photosynthesis in the evening. This property makes the spekboom 10 times more effective per hectare at regulating CO2 emission levels than any other tropical rain forest.

Here is how the plant manages to absorb so much CO2: The spekboom has the ability to change the way it undertakes photosynthesis depending on the amount of rainfall and temperature. When conditions are in favour, the plant behaves like other plants and goes about converting CO2 like normal. However, this plant has a survival tactic. If conditions are unfriendly and harsh, it has the ability to switch photosynthesis – this is called CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism). What takes place, is the plant closes its pores in the leaves and branches during the day so no unnecessary transpiration occurs.

After all this, the plant is still able to photosynthesise. This is made possible by the acid that builds up in the leaves during the evening – stored as carbon dioxide – and is broken down during the day and is converted to plant matter and oxygen. This means the plant captures a lot of carbon dioxide and uses very little water.

What Has Spekboom (Dwarf Jade Plant) been used for in the past?

It is noteworthy to point out that the leaves of the spekboom are edible. In the past – Afrikaners used to utilize their succulent leaves in order to overcome dehydration as this plant consists of a lot of water. 

During the day, the leaves take on a more acidic taste and then become less acidic at night. This is due to the sunlight exposure during the day. The spekboom has been used for many purposes, to list a few …

  • Sucking on the leaf to quench thirst, treat dehydration, exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Using the crushed leaves to treat blisters and cold sores.
  • Chewing the leaves was believed to treat a sore throat and mouth infections.
  • The leaves of the spekboom are used as an antiseptic and to assist with skin ailments such as rashes, pimples, insect stings and sunburn.
  • The plant contains a vast amount of Vitamin C – this is used to fight flu and infection.
  • The stems can be used as sticks for housing as spekboom shrubs can grow up to 5m in height.
  • In Mozambique, breastfeeding mothers used to eat spekboom in order to increase their breast milk supply.
  • The leaves can be used as a healthy, nutritious addition to any salad.

Growing Conditions of the Spekboom

Now that you have discovered this miracle plant can be used how do you grow it? Firstly, the spekboom is an indigenous evergreen plant that is predominantly found in the Eastern Cape, in South Africa.

It is one of the easiest plants to grow as this plant does not need a formal planting. It’s as simple as breaking a branch off this tree and placing it in fertile soil – It’s that easy.

This plant responds well to pruning, making this the perfect indoor plant. Not only will you be keeping the air in the house clean, but you will also be adding a lot more oxygen to the environment around you. Since this shrub comes from a harsh climate, the plant can withstand dire conditions such as severe heat or Bitter frost. Mother nature showing us some of her best work! This plant can live on as little as 250mm-350mm of rainfall water per year.

Since Spekboom has a photosynthetic mechanism, it allows it to adapt to survive extreme weather conditions. This would include severe cold & frost to extreme Hot and dry conditions. This fantastic plant can live up to 200 years old! Ruggedness at its finest.

How to grow the Spekboom (Dwarf Jade Plant)

Now that you have come across some of the wonderful benefits of the spekboom, you may be wondering how you can cultivate this plant? Well, it’s not that difficult. Since this plant is an evergreen (having foliage that remains green and functional through more than one growing season.) plant it makes it one of the easiest plants to cultivate and grow.

 What is a Spekboom - Portulacaria Afra?
What is a Spekboom – Portulacaria Afra?

This plant was used to being trampled by elephants and is often subject to being destroyed. Therefore, as the elephants came across these trees and started to consume them, small branches would break off and fall to the ground. These small offcuts the elephant has trampled and left behind would start to grow more Spekboom plants.

So it’s that simple! Simply break off a branch of the spekboom and you can plant this directly into the ground or a pot plant. The spekboom tree responds favourably to pruning, making it the perfect indoor plant or outdoor hedge. The plant does produce seeds, however, there seem to be better results when growing the plant from cuttings. The plant also produces wonderful pink flowers bloom in late winter and early spring that are full of healthy, nutritious nectar – bringing butterflies moths and bees.

Flowering Of the Spekboom (Dwarf Jade Plant)

The Spekboom flowers in South Africa’s Spring and Summer seasons. Since this plant is evergreen, it will consume a lot of water in order to produce flowers. During times of drought, it’s been observed to conserve resources and not produce flowers in order to increase the chance of survival.

What is a Spekboom – Portulacaria Afra?

The flower is beautiful in full bloom. This can be seen in the image above. The flowers are pink in colour and come together to form a sea of pink. This lures in insects and birds from afar because of its healthy, nutritious nectar.

These flowers can be cut and put into water for a lovely table display. If put in a vase with fresh water, they would probably start growing.

In Conclusion – What Is Spekboom (Dwarf Jade Plant)?

A Spekboom is a South African Shrub with succulent leaves and a reddish stem, that is not only edible but has many fantastic characteristics. This is a plant that also has fantastic carbon dioxide absorption properties. It’s been noted that a square hectare of spekboom can absorb 10x more CO2 than a square hectare of the amazon!

There are a few properties of the spekboom tree that are of importance, namely…

  • The Spekboom tree is Hardy.
  • Easy to grow.
  • Great at converting CO2 into oxygen.
  • Edible to humans and animals.
  • Brings nectar to insects.
  • Can be used medically.

Since climate change is taking effect on the world around us, do you think focusing on planting the spekboom could make a difference? If this was done on a global effort, do you think we could make a difference in climate change? Well, we like to view it like this – humans have contributed to climate change to its detriment, perhaps we could contribute to its benefit.

So do your part today! Get yourself a Spekboom and keep the environment around you carbon-free and full of oxygen. The more spekboom we plant the bigger the difference. This is mother nature giving us a lifeline, let’s take it!

This is truly a marvellous tree. It has fantastic CO2 absorption properties, it’s edible, it’s easy to grow and is resilient to harsh growing environments. Do your part today, and grow a spekboom.

Have any other interesting thoughts on the spekboom? Leave us your thoughts below.

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