Spekboom: 5 Things You Didn’t Know

By Samara on March 25, 2019
There’s no doubt about it, Spekboom (Portulacaria Afra) is a very special plant.

Also known as Pork Bush or Elephant’s Food, this indigenous evergreen is an environmental miracle worker, with the potential to tackle carbon emissions like no other plant can. Whether you’re a succulent fan or have yet to hear about this magnificent tree, here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about this wonder plant.

1. Spekboom is proudly South African

It is found predominantly in the Eastern Cape, and especially in the semi-arid Karoo region, where growing conditions are ideal for this resilient plant. It favours North-facing slopes where it is exposed to maximum sunlight. Thriving in poor soils, it tolerates both drought and frost.

2. Spekboom is one of the best carbon sequestrators in the world

Hectare for hectare, Spekboom thicket is ten times more effective than the Amazon rainforest at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One hectare of Spekboom can sequester between 4 and 10 tonnes of carbon per year. This makes it a powerful tool in the fight against climate change and the move towards a zero-carbon world.

3. Spekboom can live up to 200 years

And Spekboom trees can grow as tall as 5 metres. Prior to the advent of large-scale livestock farming, some areas of the Eastern Cape had Spekboom forests so thick that it was said a grown human could walk across the top as if walking on a carpet. Spekboom propagates very easily, and a broken-off branch can quickly grow roots and create a whole new plant.

4. Spekboom are equipped with a unique mechanism for adapting to their surroundings

In the wet, cool months, Spekboom photosynthesises like other plants, opening its stomata during the day to absorb carbon dioxide. During drier times, the plant has the ability to open its stomata at night in order to prevent water loss during the heat of the day.

5. Spekboom is edible, with a very high nutritional value

It is a favoured food of black rhinos, elephants and kudus. The good news is that we can eat it too. With a slightly lemony taste, Spekboom leaves are juicy and full of moisture, making them the perfect ‘pick-me-up’ during a long day’s hiking in the arid Karoo. Popular Cape Town restaurants like the Pot Luck Club use this succulent as accents to their beautifully crafted dishes.

Planting spekboom at Samara Private Game Reserve, Great Karoo, South Africa
How can Spekboom be used for conservation?

Due to its multiple beneficial properties, Spekboom is a favoured plant for landscape restoration projects. One such programme is located in the Eastern Cape’s Great Karoo at Samara Private Game Reserve. Consisting of 11 former livestock farms, one of the reserve’s vegetation biomes is the Valley Thicket. 200 years ago, this biome would have been home to impenetrable Spekboom thicket. Today, overgrazing by goats and sheep has denuded the landscape of much of its vegetation, leaving only pockets of Spekboom amidst the bare red earth.

Samara’s mission to actively restore its degraded landscapes has focused on the planting of Spekboom in previously overgrazed areas. Not only is the plant indigenous, but its roots act to compact the soil, preventing it from being washed away. The benefits are multiple – better-quality soil, ideal conditions for the growth of grasses and other plants, forage for wildlife, and of course climate change mitigation.

Spekboom planting, Samara Private Game Reserve, Great Karoo, South Africa

In May 2010, the first batch of Spekboom was planted on the reserve by a class of learners from Spandau Secondary School, Graaff-Reinet. Since then, Samara has worked with the University of Stellenbosch and other scientists to develop a Spekboom conservation model that ensures the highest rate of success and plant survival. Samara’s volunteers, staff and guests take part in this planting project as a means of offsetting their carbon debts.

Ultimately, Spekboom planting could provide an opportunity for carbon sequestration and job creation on a much larger scale.

How can you get involved?

As part of Samara’s collaborative conservation initiative, the reserve has launched a Spekboom planting project that anyone can get involved with.

All you have to do is join our mailing list and let us know when your birthday is. Then, when the time comes, we will plant a Spekboom in your honour. The more birthday Spekbooms we can plant, the more successful the project will be. With your help, we can rewild one of South Africa’s most spectacular environments.

Sign up
Spekboom planting, Samara Private Game Reserve, Great Karoo, South Africa


Samara Private Game Reserve is a luxury 5-star destination with a passionate conservation mission set within breathtaking wilderness. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or click here to start planning your stay with us today. A safari for the soul.


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Anne Kilian

Hi, I absolutely love this tree. I would, however like to know when to transplant my Spekboom that is rootbound. I live in Noordhoek in the Southern Peninsula. Appreciate your response.


Best time to transplant is harvest to spring time.


You can plant cuttings or even single leaves at any time of the year. This plant grows very easy from both, but single leaves takes more time to grow new leaves


Contact Ronderberg Nursery they have plenty in stock and could advise you
Contact number 079 036 8226
If you cannot get hold of my brother call me on 083 7081799

Dear Anne, apologies for the delay in getting back to you! As Clark mentions below, in our experience you can plant at any time of year. The easiest way to do it is to get a cutting and place it in water until it begins to grow roots, and then to transplant into potting soil.

Carrina Le Roux

Can somebody give us a recipe for spekboom jam please !

Great question Carrina! We’ll keep our eyes peeled for one and keep you updated.

Jen Charles

Hi! I heard the Spekboom with the red stem is of particular medicinal value, would you agree?

Hi we have added small potted plants to each of our bed and bathrooms in our guesthouse to assist with freshness inside. Yes indeed they do grow very easily and most guests sometimes leave with a plant to take to their homes.

Aldo De la Roche

Dear all, many thanks for the informative blog. Q: is there a way to get Spekboom seeds? somewhere. Best regards and thanks. Aldo

Darren Sleister

Is Spekboom available in the United States? I’d like to plant a privacy hedge to visually separate several acre size lots from the neighbors. Sequestering loads of CO2 AND having a food source sounds like a real win-win-win

John Hofmeyr

If you know of anybody growing spekboom commercially in the USA please put me in contact with him / her / them. John Hofmeyr. lanstar@global.co.za

Paula Shank

I found mine at Lowes hardware store in South Carolina.

Claudia Benade

I have one of these in my garden, but haven’t had the courage to try eating it yet.

Hi. We live in Johannesburg and received two kinds of Spekboom from an avid Wildlife Photography expert. He said that the one species was from the Addo Elephant park area and the other from the Waterberg. The one from the Addo Elephant Park is kind of wild and has a red/pink stem and the one from the Waterberg grows more dense and upright. Both grow easily from a cutting. It does feel so good to be part of a carbon sequestration movement. We do share these very special plants with friends and family in South Africa. Another friend told us… Read more »

This makes it a powerful tool in the fight against climate change and the move towards a zero-carbon world.

I don’t get this! Without carbon nothing will stay alive! And fighting climate change? How on earth can you fight something that’s been ongoing for millions of years? No… don’t share the scaremongery and dogma… you ruin a perfectly cool post with that bull!

James Marston

idiot comment – views like this is why the earth is in such a mess

[…] 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/ […]

Francois Smith

Good day
Will the spekboom survive in Secunda? (Highveld – cold winters, moderate summers with the world’s largest single point emitter of CO2)

Francois Smith

Rinesh Singh

Can these be planted near wall or do their roots cause damage to wall?