SPEKBOOM

Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) grows primarily in the dry areas of the Eastern Cape.

Recent research has shown Spekboom to be an excellent ‘carbon sponge’ with the ability to sequestrate (absorb) free carbon from the atmosphere which is used to make plant tissue. It does so particularly efficiently, which means that a stand of Spekboom has the ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest. Spekboom is unique in that it stores solar energy to photosynthesise at night. This makes it ten times more effective per hectare at carbon fixing than a tropical rain forest. Each hectare of Spekboom can capture 4,2 tons of carbon every year.

Note the thicket of Spekboom behind this Cape buffalo.

You can see the shape of the leaves of the Spekboom in this picture of a Cape Weaver.

Because of its ability to capture carbon, Spekboom is being replanted in degraded thicket areas in the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, the Addo Elephant National Park, and in the Great Fish Nature Reserve. These projects not only help to restore natural ecosystems, but as they are labour-intensive, they provide a source of income for rural communities and thereby help to alleviate poverty. The picture below illustrates an area of the Great Fish River Nature Reserve where cuttings of Spekboom have been planted.

Here you can see how other cuttings have bushed out over time.

Small star-shaped pink flowers are borne en masse from late winter to spring, usually after the first rains. They are a rich source of nectar for many insects, which in turn attract insectivorous birds.

This dragonfly is resting on a sprig of Spekboom.

Here a Cape Sparrow perches on Spekboom.

The ubiquitous dense stands of succulent Spekboom form an important part of the diet of the elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park. Their top-down browsing habits apparently help the plants to spread and thrive by promoting the natural umbrella-shaped canopy. Spekboom regenerates quickly, ensuring a regular food supply. Note the baby elephant feeding on Spekboom in the picture below.

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7 thoughts on “SPEKBOOM

  1. Thanks for this interesting post. We stayed at the Spekboom camp at Addo last year, and not only did the Spekbook “hedges” shelter us from the hot, dry winds, but it sheltered a fascinating number of birds and other creatures. I believe that it is edible (and nutritious) for humans too. I have not tried it – have you?

    • Spekboom leaves have a slightly tart taste, but are good to chew on whilst hiking in the bush and they are delicious in salads – a good substitute for capers. I enjoy seeing the birds, little rodents and insects that emerge from the Spekboom hedges in the Addo campsite too.

  2. Enjoyed reading your informative post, Anne. Great to see the well established stands of spekboom and it’s place in the thicket biome.
    Have been following the carbon credits and spekboom planting project with interest but discovered a recent article by Sipho Kings (M&G journalist) to find that sadly the project has folded. It had such promise in providing employment and additional carbon sequestering.
    Happy to report that we planted spekboom in our coastal garden and though it’s slow growing it’s coming along nicely despite the salt laden winds. The dassies nibble at the young shoots, but fortunately haven’t devoured them totally.

    • I doubt if the dassies will destroy your spekboom, rather they will ‘shape’ it. It is incredible to see how the spekboom regenerates in the Addo Elephant National Park, for example, after having been chomped by elephants. In our garden I had a plant that was damaged early on and it grew close to the ground, like a ground cover, then a year or two later began to develop an upright stem. They make exellent hedges.

      • That’s heartening to know – will continue to persevere. Am smiling at the reference ‘shaping’ / at the moment the dassies are into the bonsai effect. Hopeful now after reading your comments on how it regenerates. Also keen to get it established as a buffer against fire.

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