Spekboom: South Africa's Carbon-Storing Wonder Plant

Have you ever wondered if a single plant could make a significant difference in the fight against climate change? Meet Spekboom (Portulacaria afra), a remarkable South African shrub that's capturing the attention of environmental enthusiasts and scientists alike.

What Makes Spekboom Special?

Spekboom is no ordinary plant. It has a unique ability to switch between two different ways of absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air: the C3 pathway and the CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism) pathway. This adaptability allows it to thrive in various conditions and play a vital role in carbon sequestration.

C3 Pathway: The Efficient Way

During the cooler months of winter and spring, Spekboom uses the C3 pathway. This method is energy-efficient and allows the plant to absorb CO2 during the day. It's the preferred method when water is abundant, and temperatures are mild.

CAM Pathway: The Water-Saver

In the hot and dry summer months, Spekboom switches to the CAM pathway. This clever adaptation allows the plant to open its pores (stomata) at night to take in CO2, reducing water loss. It's a survival strategy that enables the plant to conserve water while still absorbing carbon.

Why Does This Matter?

Spekboom's ability to switch between these two pathways is more than just a botanical curiosity. It's a powerful tool in the fight against climate change.
  1. Carbon Absorption: By absorbing CO2, Spekboom helps reduce the amount of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It's a natural way to combat global warming.
  2. Water Conservation: The CAM pathway allows Spekboom to thrive in arid conditions, making it a valuable plant in regions prone to drought.
  3. Adaptation to Climate: Spekboom's flexibility in shifting between C3 and CAM pathways enables it to adapt to changing temperatures. This adaptability could be an essential trait as global climates continue to change.

Spekboom in Its Native Habitat

Endemic to South Africa, Spekboom can be found in the Karoo of the Eastern and Western Cape and the dry river valleys of Natal. Its ability to shift between C3 and CAM pathways may be an adaptation to the region's distinct summer drought.

Restoration Efforts

Spekboom planting is more than just a method for absorbing carbon; it's a vital tool in combating overgrazing and desertification. By improving soil properties and vegetation diversity, Spekboom aids in ecological restoration, making landscapes more resilient and vibrant.

Community Engagement and Job Creation

In collaboration with Jobs for Carbon, initiatives like ReSpek Nature are employing local people in the planting and harvesting of Spekboom. This project not only heals the landscape but also fosters community growth and empowerment. It's a win-win for the environment and the people who call it home.


Spekboom's unique ability to sequester carbon through its dual carbon fixation pathways makes it a valuable asset in climate change mitigation. Its adaptability and significant contribution to restoring degraded landscapes highlight its importance in ecological conservation. But beyond the science, Spekboom is a symbol of hope and collaboration. By connecting carbon capture with community engagement and job creation, projects like ReSpek Nature are showing that environmental restoration can be a pathway to social healing and economic growth. Spekboom's scientific aspects reveal its potential as a natural solution to climate change, but its impact reaches far beyond the soil and air. By understanding and harnessing these properties, we can take a step closer to a sustainable and compassionate future.

The information in this blog post is based on scientific research, specifically a study titled "Seasonal Shifts in Photosynthetic Pathways in Portulacaria afra (L.) Jacq." You can access the full paper here for more in-depth knowledge.