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Spekboom: A Carbon Neutral Master
by Regan van As, A Spekboom Specialist
4 min read
In celebration of Sealand’s Carbon Neutrality we have filled our stores with Spekboom. We wanted our Carbon Neutral installations to have an impact beyond their time in our stores, making Spekboom the perfect choice. Here’s why.
What is Spekboom?
‘Portulacaria Afra’, otherwise known as Spekboom, holds perhaps one of the greatest secrets in our fight against offsetting carbon emissions. This evergreen succulent is indigenous to South Africa and can be found towering high on the north-facing mountain slopes of the Eastern Cape and the semi-arid Karoo regions. This truly beautiful specimen can grow up to 5m high and live up to 200 years old.
The highest recorded carbon sequestration from a Spekboom thicket is 15.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year, making it a legitimate contender against that of the Amazon Rainforest. On average though, one hectare of Spekboom will sequester 4 to 10 tonnes of CO2 per year under the right circumstances.
There are further positive ripple effects from planting Spekboom to reduce carbon emissions. Namely, creating employment, increasing biodiversity and the retention of water in the ground. Spekboom also acts as a food source for animals and humans with the leaves of the plant containing many forms of nutrients. With the increased planting of Spekboom in the right areas, you can imagine hectares of dry barren land being transformed into a jungle of green. This encourages life for a host of animals, creating an ecosystem in the dust.
Digging into the science
The secret behind Spekboom’s high carbon absorption is its ability to switch between C3 and CAM photosynthetic pathways. When moisture is abundant the plant will use the C3 method of photosynthesis, which is the most common form of photosynthesis in plants. However, when the Spekboom finds itself in a semi-arid area with extremely limited moisture available and hot temperatures it will shift to its CAM pathway. This CAM pathway has a much greater effect on capturing carbon. This ability to switch between photosynthetic pathways is extremely rare. As of now only 25 plant species have been identified with this trait.
Without getting too technical about it, the difference between C3 and CAM are as follows: Plants using C3 open their stomata during the day (you can imagine the stomata as the small breathing holes of plants) while the Spekboom using CAM will open their stomata at night. The stomata are responsible for the exchange of carbon dioxide and water. Plants using C3 suck in carbon dioxide during the day but lose water due to the sun causing evaporation. While the CAM method allows the Spekboom to gather much more carbon dioxide at night without losing its needed water.
Sealand’s Planting Promise
At the end of Sealand’s Carbon Neutral month, we will gather the 47 Spekboom across our stores and plant them. To double our impact we will also propagate and plant another 50 Spekbooms. In fact, we’ve already started with a few sprouting in the green spaces around our Sealand office.
The take home around Spekboom
You could imagine Spekboom as a carbon sponge that opens up in the evenings. During the day the sponge closes off and processes the carbon to grow bigger.
This wonder plant holds the ability to contribute to a healthier world in many ways. It is up to all of us to give it the support it needs to get started. Then we can sit back and watch the magical effects of the Spekboom unfold.