How cool is spekboom?

A recent study in the Eastern Cape has highlighted the fact that the humble spekboom (or ‘elephant’s food’ as it is also known) has an amazing ability to soak up CO2, equivalent to that of  sub-tropical forests. Findings suggest that up to four tons of carbon a year would be captured by each hectare. This is apparently making a lot of people excited about how much it could be worth on the carbon-trading market but I’m excited about how an indigenous South African plant could potentially be so valuable in turning back the tide of global warming.  Also, it raises the issue of what uses our other indigenous plants could have, that we have yet to discover.

And I’ve got it in my garden.  I currently have five plants, all grown from one cutting I took from my friend Em’s house in Salt Rock.  So, if anyone wants some (and lives in Durban), let me know and you can come and break off a branch.

Read up about it at the Mail & Guardian and Urban Sprout.

Update: Sasol may turn to Spekboom to capture carbon

Spekboom soaks up the CO2.
Spekboom soaks up the CO2.

78 thoughts on “How cool is spekboom?”

  1. That is very cool… This is also known as Jade if you’ve made a bonsai out of it – and they’re relatively easy to bonsai. We’ve got two bushes of Spekboom in our garden (plus two bonsais) so hooray to doing our bit for CO2 absorption… Thanks Niall.

  2. So you know you can also use the leaves in a salad. Sounds a liiitttlllle weird, why don’t you try it out and let us know if it’s good to eat or not… ha. Seriously – a book I have says it’s wonderful. I think there is even a salad recipe in there I’ll have to check it out…

  3. Here’s an extract out of “Cultivating Flavour” by Toni B Walters:
    Here’s a plant you’re not likely to find in a European herb garden. You may, however, recognise it as the jade plant in a bonsai collection. Spekboom is a drought resistant shrub, which can grow into a small tree of up to 4m in height. Fortunately, it also grows well in a container, so you don’t need a huge garden to grow it.
    As with many indigenous herbs, we have yet to explore the many ways in which this plant can be used, and very often it is only the medicinal properties that are investigated. But Spekboom leaves, also have a refreshing, slightly tart, lemony taste. I use them raw in salads.

  4. woo-hoo, name check! i’ve also always known it as jade plant. and it reminds me of my gran, for obvious reasons.

  5. Help! I bought my mom a bonsai spekboom plant for R300 and it’s lost nearly all its leaves. Any idea why?

  6. Hi Tracy. How often did she water it? I’ve had succulents die before because of too much water. Also, where did she put it? Was it on a window sill or in direct sunlight for most of the day?

  7. Hi Tracy – I’ve got a few bonsai spekbooms (Jade as they’re known when bonsai). I’ve always found them to be extremely hardy. I’ve under-watered and over-watered them and they seem to keep on going. But I’m with Niall, a bit more information like where it is, how much watering etc will help. Could it be some ‘nasties’ that have got to the roots? Also, how long has she had the bonsai for and where did she get it from? Is it root bound (ie you can pretty much lift the whole plant out of the pot because there are more roots than soil)?

  8. Just brilliant – i think this Blog is fresh and exciting !! well done Nial and Sons !! – Son’s see if you can get that Husband of yours to cut that grass !!!

  9. I bought my mother the “Jade” at the annual PE bonsai show for about R300! It’s 7 years old. She’s had it next to a window, but not in direct sun. Her other plants thrive there. She watered it, as directed, once every 2 weeks by standing the container in water. She took it out of the container in which is was bought and saw that it was pot bound and the roots are very long. Do you know if the roots can be trimmed?

  10. Hi Tracy, As far as I know, the Jade bonsai is not too sensitive about having its roots trimmed. I would suggest she buy some bonsai soil. She should remove the whole bonsai and spay the roots gently with a hose to release excess soil from the roots. Be careful about trimming any of the ‘larger’ roots as potentially these can rot. I would try to just stick to the smaller ones. Repot in her container with new soil and then immerse the whole container in water – you should see bubbles coming out, this is good. Then keep the tree out of the sun in a completely shady spot for two weeks before returning it to the sun.

    Alternatively, if you are nervous about this yourself check out this website, there seem to be some contacts for the PE bonsai society. I’m sure someone would be willing to help out.

    Good luck and let me know how it goes.

  11. Hi

    I am in Durban and would appreciate you please letting me know how I can get my hands on some Spekboom Cuttings. If you can give me an address and contact number I can get in touch with you to make arrangements.

    Many thanks for helping make a difference to curb Global Warming.



  12. Hi Farida.

    I am in Glenwood, Durban and can gladly give you some spekboom cuttings.

    My number is 073 419 2756 but I am out of town until next week.


  13. Can someone put me on the tail of the guys at Sasol or Escom involved with the spekboom / carbon credit projects ?

  14. a question need info.
    Is the Spekboom and the so called ‘Money tree’ one and the same plant? My ‘money trees’have tiny pink flowers in the form of a very small cluster. Thanks for the interesting info.

    Regards Reinette

  15. similar but not the same. the money tree has ‘fatter’ leaves and doesn’t grow as large as spekboom. I guess they must be very closely related though.

  16. My sister, Margaret Rheeder, is addamit that everyone should plant “Spekboom”! She is prepared to give snipps to anyone in the Cape Town region!! (YOU just have to collect it!!!!) She can be reached on 0832505441 or 0219878363. Regards,
    Pierre Fourie

  17. I would like to see some serious planning on spekboom (to offset CO2). Of course I already have one in my small garden and give away many cuttings; but there could be side-effects if we get too impulsive. As someone has pointed out (I think on Urban Sprout), we don’t want huge monocultures even of beneficial plants like this – we know what those do.
    But since the spekboom’s natural habitat is dry rocky places, there are certainly a great many sites in our arid country where it can be planted without displacing grassland, forest or other natural biomes or creating monotonous artificial landscapes … and it would make a good-looking, low-care commercial ‘crop’!
    In my mind’s eye I see a stretch of spekboom with wind turbines looming over it. Is this fanciful?

  18. I like your thinking Madeleine and interesting point about the monocultures. I hadn’t really considered that before… Certainly one or two plants in each garden can’t harm. My two are growing strength by strength.

  19. A great spekboom group to join on Facebook:

    On the biodiversity issue, this is what Clifford Dorse from the City of Cape Town had to say:

    “The use of Spekboom for carbon sequestration has great potential and such a project needs support. Spekboom never occurred naturally within the City of Cape Town and as such can not be seen as being indigenous to the City. As a City we have a huge responsibility to conserve and protect the 19 vegetation types which occur naturally within our boundaries. In fact, 6 of these occur nowhere else in the world! The conservation of this unique natural heritage is therefore a huge priority. Where such natural remnants occur, there should only be the planting of locally indigenous species as we need to preserve the natural species assemblage in these remnants. There are however vast urbanised areas in Cape Town where there is absolutely no possibility of restoring the natural vegetation communities. The majority of these areas are in desperate need of greening. In such areas the planting of species that are not locally indigenous, but also not invasive, is a good option. From the information that I have I would think that the use of Spekboom in greening initiatives has great potential! Besides the significant ability to secure Carbon from the atmosphere these plants are water wise, they don’t burn and they are very attractive. It would be great to see some pilot projects rolled out on the Cape Flats which are in desperate need of greening. It would also be a good idea to get input and support from all the relevant City line functions as all possible implications, including maintenance requirements and the potential of creating cover for unsavoury activities, must be considered.”

  20. Sal Spekboom in die Bosveld (Nylstroom area) aard en indien wel waar kan n mens steggies kry. Hoe lank vat so n plant om 2 meter hoog te groei.

  21. Try this Spekboom Salad: (for one) Grill a chicken breast. Make a salad of 1 cup young Spekboom leaves de-stemmed (no that’s not the old national anthem!), a few soft lettuce leaves (not that appalling Iceberg rubbish), a handful of young nasturtium leaves with 2 or 4 flowers for colour; a few basil leaves, young spinach leaves. Very thinly – I mean VERY thinly – sliced red pepper.

    Build salad with lettuce first, then spinach, basil and then Spekboom. Dress with a light olive oil and Winterberg raspberry vinegar, salt and fresh ground black pepper. Slice grilled chicken into strips, scatter on salad, with some crumbled feta. Scatter with nasturtium flowers. Pour yourself a large glass of cold Fantail (Mogenhof) un-wooded Chardonnay. Enjoy!

  22. Hi can anyone tell me where I can get hold of spekboom, I live in Pretoria. Saw a TV program with the advantages it has for diabetes. Thanks H

  23. Ha Ha! It’s you! I found this by chance looking for info about whether I’m overwatering my spekboom and it’s YOU!!!! Hello!

  24. So now for my question: New Spekboom. It’s in a very large pot (deep rather than large in circumference) in my courtyard (in Vredehoek, Cape Town).
    I have an irrigation system of sprayers and am nervous that it’s being overwatered, not quite sure whether to just take sprayer out of that pot altogether or to put a very small 1L dripper in there (which would mean it would get 1/2L per day). As I said, very big pot. Would this even be too much. ? Would it be better to just water it manually once a month or how often? with a good drench? Clueless.

  25. Hey Maz

    It is me!

    It sounds like too much water to me. It is a succulent and does thrive in arid conditions. I water my spekboom pot plant about once a week (just a splash) and it seems to be doing really well.

    That said, if it is in a courtyard and open to the sky, why not just let the rain water it and if it gets a little dry, top it up with the watering can.


  26. Hi all. Spekboom can be eaten and has a sharp, tangy taste when flowering, which goes to a bitter, leafy taste in drier periods. I grew up on a farm in the Eastern Cape and we would eat this in the veld to stave off thirst. Lovely plant, brings back good memories!

  27. Hi, the indiginous spekboom has the red stem, there is another one but it has a gray green stem with slightly bigger leaves, can you also eat it or not? and is it also good for the project?

    Tx alot!


  28. Hi, ek het een keer op Tuine en tossels gesien toe hulle oor die Spekboom praat. Dit was ‘n kok wat gese het dat mens ‘n Spekboom kan eet. Is dit so?

    Laat weet my asseblief.


  29. I think it is … grows in the Eastern Cape and it gets freezing there.

    bev – don’t think it has an invasive root system. obviously give it some room to grow but should be happy close to a wall.

  30. I’ve been gardening for decades and spekboom is one of the easiest plants I have ever grown. It grows anywhere, is hardy and very neglect resistant, you don’t even need to prep your cuttings in water but can just stick pieces straight into the ground, and it grows fast. I’ve had bushes all over my garden for years and am thrilled to know about its great vvalues. I will not make a point of giving some to all my friends!!

  31. I am a teacher at a LSEN school and part of the eco-school programme, we are very interested in the spekboom for obvious reasons. Who can help us get hold of a plant or plants. We are situated in Secunda right behind Sasol, the factory is practically on our “stoep”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make a difference here with the help of the spekboom!

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