Find out the benefits of planting spekboom, an indigenous succulent, in your garden.

Whether you call it spekboom, elephant’s food or pork bush, this incredible plant with its bright green, circular leaves should be planted in every South African garden (and maybe even every garden around the world). Here’s why.

1. It improves the quality of the air we breathe and helps fight climate change

Spekboom (aka Portulacaria afra) is a succulent that helps fight air pollution. It has the ability to ‘sequester’ or capture four to ten tons of carbon per hectare! Essentially, it acts as a carbon sponge, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and turning it into plant matter. Excess carbon in the atmosphere is responsible for global warming, so the more carbon we can remove from the air and return to the ground, the better.

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2. Spekboom is a proudly South African plant

Spekboom is indigenous to the Eastern Cape where South African elephants consider the plant a delicacy.

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 3. It’s water wise 

No time to water your garden? Spekboom is a water-wise plant that’s ideal for low-maintenance gardens.  This drought-resistant plant can survive on just 250-350mm of water a year!

4. Suitable for all seasons and weather conditions 

Spekboom has a photosynthetic mechanism which allows it to adapt to both rainforest-like conditions and semi-arid conditions, making it incredibly adaptable and suited to almost any garden.

5. It’s easy to grow

Spekboom is easily propagated, which is great news for budget gardeners. Simply cut or break off a piece of a spekboom, let it dry out for one or two days and then stick it in the ground. Give it a little water every few days and you’ll soon have a new spekboom plant of your own. Make sure you don’t give it too much water or it will rot.

6. Spekboom is a really versatile plant

Whether you are looking for a plant that can be turned into a hedge or a bonsai, or used as groundcover or a large bush, spekboom can do it all. It responds well to pruning and grows densely, making it an excellent, hardy screen or hedge. Some varieties grow low to the ground and others reach as high as 2 metres!

spekboom portulacaria afra
Image: Tyrone Adams

7. You can even eat it

We’re not suggesting you chow down on a plate of spekboom, but it is edible and apparently has a light, citrussy flavour. If you ever find yourself hiking through the Karoo, you can suck on a leaf – they are traditionally used to treat exhaustion and dehydration.

If you enjoyed this gardening article, we recommend reading 5 indigenous trees for a small garden.  

Sources: Indigenous Flora, Spekboom.com and Times Live