Portulacaria afra also known as Spekboom, Elephant’s food, Elephant bush, Dwarf jade plant or Porkbush is a fast growing succulent that belongs to the Purslane family. It is an industrious little plant with a huge heart. To name just a few of its amazing attributes:
- Easy to grow
- Low maintenance
- Great for hedges
- Reduces soil erosion
- Makes a lovely bonsai
- Drought tolerant and water wise
- Stimulates a return of biodiversity in the area because of its soil-binding and shading nature
- Acts as a carbon sponge – soaking up high concentrations of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
In nature Spekboom tends to grow as a small tree-like shrub but has a very varied growth habit depending on where and how it is grown. In the garden it is mainly used as a succulent garden shrub and as a bonsai subject.
The leaves are small, rounded, green and succulent , held on red stems. The leaves are edible with a pleasant, acidy taste that can be used in salads and are high in Vitamin C. Small star-shaped pink flowers are borne en masse from late winter to spring although flowering in cultivation is often erratic.
It grows best in a sunny, sandy area but can grow in shady areas as well. Spekboom can tolerate a moderate degree of frost, even more so when established. Just remember to protect young plants in winter. It can be used as a water-wise and low maintenance hedge.
Spekboom’s recent popularity is mostly due to its amazing ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide (a harmful greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere. This process in which the Spekboom acts as a “carbon sponge” is called carbon sequestration. Currently, humans are producing atmospheric carbon faster than the environment can absorb it. Spekboom has the unique ability to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than most plants and it does so very efficiently. Further to its carbon habit, it covers and shades the soil from the harmful rays of the sun creating a favourable environment under the bush for insects and other wildlife to inhabit. With the above in mind there is no doubt the humble Spekboom is a true South African hero o there is no excuse to add one to your family as soon as possible!