Plant of the Month – Feb 2018

Portulacaria afra (Jacquin 1786)
Spekboom (Pork Bush)
Elephant’s food, isiCococo (Zulu)
iGqwanitsha (Xhoza)

This plant is very popular among succulent collectors and growers, worldwide and is often used for bonsai. It has now been shown to be effective in carbon sequestration (binding atmospheric carbon which is responsible for climate change), in semi-arid landscapes and thicket vegetation it is also being used for restoration purposes.

It is found in warm situations on rocky slopes in succulent Karoo scrub, thicket, bushveld and dry river valleys in the eastern parts of South Africa from the Eastern Cape northwards into KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga and the Limpopo Province as well as Mozambique.

Spekboom belongs to a large and widespread family (Portulacaceae) which includes the popular Portulaca and is often sold in garden centers and grown in domestic gardens as an annual for summer color, although this is not a South African species. Other members of this genus include Portulacaria armiana and Portulacaria pygmaea the former has larger grey green leaves and is native to Namibia although it is not often cultivated, whereas the latter is a dwarf succulent shrublet with small, thickly fleshy, grey green leaves and occurs on rocky hillsides in Namaqualand, South Africa.

Spekboom is known to produce flowers in winter to late spring in the warmer more humid parts of southern Africa. We know that it normally blooms in summer in the Klein Karoo. The plants will flower when rain occurs after severe drought anytime in spring through summer. Spekboom is extremely easy to grow and as a result is found in most gardens in Calitzdorp. Cuttings are easily rooted in spring though autumn.

The plant is very pest resistant. Hedges along property lines exist for years with no obvious signs of degradation due to disease or critters.

Massive programs to re-install Spekboom are under way throughout southern Africa. Grazing animals have degraded the plant’s ability to self propagate, so cuttings are being planted to replace.

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