Author: Bradley Dennis from Samara
Using the Spekboom as a Carbon Sink
Spekboom is a small tree shrub that grows naturally in the Karoo. Widespread across the country today, it is found in most gardens and urban areas. Spekboom is a popular plant because of its tolerance to drought and wind. It remains evergreen throughout the year, growing to a size of around 2 – 5m. The small, round leaves are a favourite among animals, especially the tortoise.
In the Eastern Cape the plant is grazed by elephants, which graze on the top branches of the Spekboom.
Spekboom is not only an attractive, hardy and fast growing species, but has properties that can help offset the harmful emissions of carbon. This trait has pushed the plant into the spotlight in recent years. Research conducted on the plant estimates that an average cluster of Spekboom have the capabilities to store up to 4 tons of carbon per year. Carbon is released into the atmosphere because of the burning of fossil fuels. The rate of which carbon is being released is far greater than that which the earth can naturally absorb, resulting in global warming; causing heat from the sun to be trapped in the atmosphere.
The plant uses a form of Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) to absorb inorganic carbon (CO2) from the air and convert it into organic compounds. This CO2 enters through the stomata of the plant during the night. CAM is a form of carbon fixation that occurs in arid regions where a plant adapts to the hot, unfavourable conditions of the day. The plant closes its stomata in the leaves during the day to reduce evapotranspiration, but opens at night to collect carbon. The Spekboom is a highly specialised CAM plant that is able to absorb up to 100 times more carbon than a pine tree of similar size.
Planting Spekboom & community involvement at Samara Game Reserve
At Samara Game Reserve an area of around 10000 hectares has been set aside for the reintroduction of the species. This is also an ongoing project to help develop a carbon sink to fight the emissions of carbon in this country. The project started in 2010 and so far most of the schools and communities in the surrounding areas have participated in clearing, planting and caring for the Spekboom.
The game reserve encourages all visitors to participate in the planting of a young spekboom. It is a beautiful gift back to the Earth, and allows guests to feel part of the greater good in terms of this magical wilderness. Volunteers in South Africa whom work on the reserve can expect to really engage in the expansion of this project, and get to learn about the scientific background of the plant and its properties.
The replanting of this succulent species is labour intensive, and can lead to job creation in the country. Growing Spekboom for it’s carbon absorption and benefit from the carbon credits earned is becoming an increasing trend amongst Eastern Cape parks.
We hope this inspires you to plant more Spekboom in your garden, or get outside and help green our country.