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Portulacaria afra is an attractive and robust succulent shrub species that is grown around the globe and is often used ornamentally as a house plant, pruned to resemble a bonsai. It has small round succulent leaves and red stems that can survive arid conditions. When grown as a houseplant, it likes more water than most succulents, but should still be allowed to dry out thoroughly between watering. In southern Africa, Portulacaria afra is known by the names Elephant Bush and Elephant Food and is used by people for culinary and medicinal purposes. Spekboom is also a popular common name for this plant and in some places it is well known as Dwarf Jade Plant for its resemblance to the Jade Plant species, Crassula ovata. What makes this plant so unique is that it's not only directly useful for both humans and animals, but also for promoting a healthier environment by preventing soil erosion and acting as an excellent carbon sponge. ZA Distribution: Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Western Cape.
Common problems with Spekboom
A mistletoe, Viscum crassulae, also parasitizes this plant. Other mammals may graze on plants kept outdoors.
How to harvest Spekboom
Pick leaves at any time, as needed to add to food, or to use medicinally.
How to propagate Spekboom
Roots easily and can be planted directly into the ground where they are to grow. Cuttings can be taken in the normal manner(about 10-15cm, remove bottom leaves), allow to dry out and plant in washed river sand.
Seed is not often available.
Special features of Spekboom
Attracts useful insects
They are a rich source of nectar and water for many insects, such as bees.
In dry conditions when other plants have to shutdown and wait for sufficient rain, Elephant bush can use CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism) to keep taking up carbon and continue growing.
The Elephant bush can be used as a screen or even a clipped hedge.
Just make sure that the pot has large drainage holes and that the plant never stands in water.
Place the plant in a room with direct sun and without a draught.
It is a source of nectar or water for insects thereby also attracting insectivorous birds.
Other uses of Spekboom
Prevents soil erosion. Medicinal properties. Carbon sponge.
The leaves are used to treat over-exhaustion, dehydration, blisters, acne, insect bites and sunburn, and also to lower high blood sugar levels. Traditionally used to promote the flow of breast milk.
Leaves can be eaten raw from the plant or in salads or added to stew. Honey is made from the plant. It is also valuable stock feed.
Easy Bonsai start for amateurs!
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