The Spekboom Challenge

South Africans are taking up the challenge of planting spekboom and sharing photos of it to various social media channels along with the hashtag #SpekboomChallenge. Spekboom (aka Portulacaria afra) is a succulent that helps fight air pollution. It has the ability to ‘sequester’ or capture four to ten tons of carbon per hectare! Essentially, it acts as a carbon sponge, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and turning it into plant matter. Excess carbon in the atmosphere is responsible for global warming, so the more carbon we can remove from the air and return to the ground, the better.

‘The Humble Spekboom’
According to WineLand, ‘the humble’ spekboom (that is mainly found in the Eastern Cape) can gobble up between four and 10 tons of carbon per hectare per year. It is said to be South Africa’s ‘wonder plant’.

“It is a bright green, small-leaved plant with a contrasting red stem found in Southern Africa that seems ordinary but don’t be fooled – it is a very special plant!’

It ultimately helps to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by acting like a carbon sponge, improving the quality of air we breathe. More specifically, spekboom can absorb between four to ten tons of carbon per hectare.

“This incredible tree uses carbon to make plant tissue and produce oxygen. According to The Spekboom Foundation, spekboom’s capacity to offset harmful carbon emissions is compared to that of moist, subtropical forests. This remarkable plant is unique in that it stores solar energy to perform photosynthesis at night. This makes a spekboom thicket 10 times more effective per hectare at carbon fixing than any tropical rainforest.”

The spekboom is also great at adapting to its surroundings and can flourish almost anywhere. It makes wonderful hedges and beautiful shrubs and, can be planted in fields, flowerbeds and pots.

The spekboom challenge and other projects
According to Getaway, besides individuals taking part in the spekboom challenge, there are various initiatives across the country to champion the cause of planting spekboom as an environmentally friendly act.

One such spekboom promoter is Abraham Enzo van Vuuren, president of the Greater Magaliesberg Biosphere Business Chamber and founder of Heal the World 4 Us. He carries a baby spekboom tree in an incubator around his neck and since 2014 he has run a project that creates awareness about the plant’s unique properties. He has sold tiny spekboom plants to school children as well as various businesses.

In 2019, work on an ambitious project to create the largest labyrinth in Africa out of spekboom took off with the help of volunteers in Stellenbosch, Western Cape.

The project from Wonder Plant includes building the largest labyrinth in the world made from 90 000 spekboom trees. The landmark will also serve as a living monument to environmental preservation on our planet.

According to Getaway, the Great Labyrinth of Africa, the 13-circuit labyrinth will have the same dimensions as the base of one of the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt – 230m x 230m – and will have the same design as that of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth in France.

Organisers said that they should start planting trees towards end February 2020, once the layout is complete.