THE SPEKBOOM FOUNDATION

OF  SOUTH AFRICA

Die Wonderplant van die Een-en-Twintigste Eeu. Stef Delport

Spekboom (Portulacaria Afra) is werklik die wonderplant van die Ooskaap en die Sondagsrivier Vallei. Die Addo Olifant Nasionale Park is bevoorreg om die mid-delpunt van hierdie Spekboomstreek te wees. Die Vallei Bosveld bioom (Xerix Succulent Thicket), waarvan die Spekboom seker die belangrikste deel vorm, kom hoofsaaklik in die Ooskaapse riviervalleie van die Gamtoos, Sondags, Vis en hul omstreke voor.

In Xhosa staan die Spekboom bekend as iGwanitsha, terwyl die Engelse naam vir die Spekboom die beskrywende Elephant’s Food is (en nie Pork Bush soos die direkte vertaling uit Afrikaans verkeerdeliklui nie), want dit vorm tot 80% van die Ooskaapse olifante se dieet. „n Olifant vreet tot 200 kg. Spekboomblare per dag. In die proses kan hulle „n Spekboom stroop van byna al sy blare, maar dit loop
elke keer weer spoedig uit met nuwe groeisels. Ook die takke wat platgetrap of afgebreek is, maak nuwe wortels en groei weer voort as deel van die boskasie. Spekboom floreer dus as dit van bo af bewei, ge-trap en bemis word. Die vernietiging van Spekboomstande in groot dele van die Ooskaap was egter die resultaat van oorbeweiding deur bos en grasvreters soos bokke en skape wat die bosveld van onder af kaal gevreet het en in die proses die Spekbome en die mikroklimaat onder hul beskermende boskasie vernietig het. Die seer oog van talle uitgetrapte plase lê hier vir almal om te sien. Spekboom is „n oorgroeide kruidagtige struik en die enigste spesie in sy genus en beperk tot die suidoostelike dele van Suidelike Afrika. Spekboom verkies somer reënval met warm somers en „n gematigde winterklimaat. Die voorkoms van so groot getalle van Afrika se grootwild in hierdie area is grootliks as gevolg van die voorkoms van Spekboom. Interessant, in die Spekboom areas van die Ooskaap word feitlik geen groot miershope van termiete gevind nie. Noord van die Keiri-vier kom die tropiese termiete voor, terwyl suid van die Ooskaapse Spekboom-streek die gematigde-area termiete gevind word.

Die eerste blankes wat hierdie deel van die Ooskaap binnegedring het, was jagters wat reeds in 1702 hier in die Sondagsrivier vallei kom olifante jag het. Vyftig jaar na die koms van Jan van Riebeeck na die Kaap was die vallei dus al bekend vir sy olifante – alles te danke aan sy welige stand van Spekboom. Spekboom was vroeg reeds bekend in Europa. Reeds in 1771 het die bekende plantkundige, Linnaus, gerapporteer oor een wat blom in Italië en met die uitbreek van die Franse Revolusie in 1786, blom een in Wene. Ook vroeë reisigers deur suidelike Afrika meld gereeld die voorkoms van Spekboom. So skryf Thomas Pringle in sy African Sketches van 1834: The spekboom, with its light green leaves and lilac blossoms ... en later verwys hy na ... browsing on the succulent spekboom, which clothed the skirts of the hills. In 1843 se Cape of Good Hope Almanac lees ons: One of the most valuable shrubs...is the spekboom (portulacaria afra). It is found in great abundance on the stony ridges and affords excellent food for those large flocks of sheep, and especially of goats... In severe droughts this bush is truly invaluable. Vandag dra die Spekboom die toerismebedryf van die Ooskaap met sy talle wildplase, natuurparke en die Groot Vyf wat weer oral hervestig is in hul ou na-tuurlike habitat. Al meer boere beweeg deesdae weg van die veldvernietigende bok- en skaapboerdery na volhoubare wildboerdery.

Spekboom floreer in areas met ‘n reënval van 250 tot 375mm per jaar met baie warm somers. Dit word van 2,5m tot 4,5.m hoog met „n stam van gemiddeld 20cm in deursnee en kan tot 200 jaar oud word. Dit het sappige groen blare wat 1.3 mm tot 2 mm lank, stomp of gerond is en met ‘n klein stingel geheg word. Dit blom in die lente of vroeë somer na goeie reën met stervormige pienk of lig-pers dubbelslagtige blomme wat goeie heuning lewer. Die vrugte is klein bessie-agtige pienk deurskynende vruggies met drie vlerkies en verlang spoedige reën na vrugval om te ontkiem.

Die Spekboom is buitengewoon, omdat dit twee metodes van fotosintese volg:

1. Gedurende wintermaande wanneer dit koel en vogtig is, vind gewone fotosintese en beter groei plaas.

2. In droë toestande in die winter of somer volg „n proses wanneer die plant sy huidmondjies oopmaak en koolsuurgas “inasem” en sure binne die plant opbou. Gedurende die nag word die huidmondjies gesluit en die sure word afgebreek om koolsuurgas binne die plant vry te stel sonder dat die plant vog deur sy huidmondjies verloor. Die beskikbare vog word dan d.m.v. hierdie koolstofverbindings in die blare, stamme en wortels van die Spekboom gebêre vir droë tye. Die spekboom is dus ‘n wonderplant juis omdat dit albei hierdie prosesse kan volg. Hierdie spekboomfeite is vasgestel danksy fisiologiese studies deur weten-skaplikes in veral Amerika en Japan. Wetenskaplikes het reeds in die 1960’s en 1970’s agtergekom die spekboom werk anders as ander plante. Wat die spek-boom nog meer spesiaal maak, is dat sy humus nie kan brand nie. ‘n Vuur kan dit dus nie vernietig nie en sy organiese materie, sowel as die koolstof uit die lug opgeneem, word uiteindelik in die grond opgeberg. Studies wat in die veld gedoen is, toon dat „n gemiddelde stand van spekbome tot 4 ton koolstof per jaar per hektaar vasvang.

Die aarde is besig om te verwarm met uiteindelike katastrofiese gevolge vir die mensdom. Een van die redes is die opbou van kweekhuisgasse soos Koolsuur-gas (CO2) in die atmosfeer wat globale verwarming veroorsaak. Die Kyoto Pro-tokolle probeer hierdie verwarmings-proses stopsit en een van die metodes is om sogenaamde Koolstof Vangputte (“Carbon Sinks”) te skep wat groot hoeveelhede koolstof uit die atmosfeer op natuurlike wyse sal haal. Navorsing het bewys dat Vallei Bosveld (Xerix Succulent Thicket) en veral Spekboom een van die mees suksesvolle Koolstof Vangputte ter wêreld is. ‘n Spekboom kan tot 100 keer meer koolstof uit die atmosfeer haal as wat „n den-neboom van dieselfde grootte kan doen. Hierdie tipe bosveld kom net in Suid-Afrika, Meksiko en Spanje voor, maar is reeds grootliks uitgeroei in laasge-noemde twee lande. Spekboom gaan dus „n revolusionêre omwenteling in boerdery in die Ooskaap in die toekoms veroorsaak. Honderde miljoene rande behoort uiteindelik beskik-baar te wees om boere te betaal om hul Spekboomveld weer te laat herstel, deur hul veegetalle te verminder of Spekboom aan te plant. Op die oomblik is daar projekte aan die gang om honderde hektaar uitgetrapte kaal veld in die omstreke van die Sondagsrivier en die Baviaanskloof weer onder Spekboom te vestig. Boere gaan dus in die toekoms dalk boer met koolstof deur middel van hul Spekbome.

Tans word daar al handel gedryf in Koolstof Debiete en Koolstof Krediete. Lan-de soos Duitsland en ander Europese lande wat die Kyoto Protokol onderteken het, word aangeslaan met Koolstof Debiete weens hul oormatige besoedeling van die atmosfeer met al die CO2 uitlatings van hul motorvoertuie en fabrie-ke. Hulle moet dan Koolstof Krediete aankoop om hul uitstaande debiete te neu-traliseer. Boere in die Ooskaap, wat deelneem aan die stelsel en hul plase se koolstof neerslag laat evalueer deur Duitse Sertifiseerders, sal hul Koolstof Krediete op die ope mark kan verhandel. Bedrae word genoem van enigiets van-af 1 dollar tot 600 dollar per hektaar per jaar afhangend van hul Spekboomstan-de. Boere sal dus uiteindelik net op hul stoep kan sit en koffie drink terwyl hulle kyk hoe hul Spekbome groei! ‘n Verdere feit wat die Spekboom ‘n wonderplant maak is die vermoë van Spekboom om melkproduksie te stimuleer. Die ou tradisionele Xhosa’s het ge-glo dat „n ou moeder, ‘n maand voor haar eerste dogter geboorte sou skenk aan ‘n baba, groot hoeveelhede spekboomblare moes eet. ‘n Paar dae na die geboor-te van ‘n dogter is hierdie baba dan aan die ouma oorhandig wat haar kon soog met melk, sodat daar ‘n jongmeisie in die huis sou wees om hout en water te gaan haal as die ouma oud word. Ek het hierdie feit een keer genoem aan wei-dingsdeskundiges van die Vrystaatse Universiteit en hulle kon bevestig dat hul proewe bewys het dat melkkoeie op spekboomweiding se melkproduksie die hoogte ingeskiet het. Spekboom is die stapelvoedsel van bosvreters soos die koedoe en ander grootwild. Dit is egter ook verteerbaar vir grasvreters soos beeste, solank dit saam met ander voedingsplante beskikbaar is. Dit is dus ‘n besondere habitat vir wild omdat dit in die droë winter nie alleen kos verskaf wanneer grasse en kleiner bossies nie meer eetbaar is nie, maar ook as beskutting dien tydens bittere koue weens die vog in die Spekboom wat hul hitte snags gedeeltelik behou en as goeie insulator dien. Spekboom verskil ook van ander bosstruike dat dit eetbaar is deur mense. Die blaartjies met hul effens suur suurlemoenagte smaak is geskik vir gebruik in slaaie.

Spekboom is ryk aan mangaan en kobalt en veral ryk aan magnesium. Dit bevat ook groot hoeveelhede van die mikro-elemente, jodium en selenium. Duisendpote gebruik gekonsetreerde jodium as ‘n verdedigings afskeiding en dit verklaar die ongewoon hoë voorkoms van duisendpote in die Ooskaapse vallei bosveld. Dit verklaar ook die duisende duisendpote wat jaarliks oor die teerpad beweeg naby Uitenhage, waar daar digte spekboomstande langs die teerpad voorkom. Mense plant Spekboom al oor baie honderde jare aan as ‘n heiningplant. Spek-boomtakke skiet baie vinnig wortel en begin groei as dit in die grond ingelê word. Deur bloot takke naby mekaar in die grond te plant, kan „n lewendige heining ge-skep word, wat ideaal is om jou erf te omhein. Swart veeboere het Spekboom oor die eeue geplant om krale se heinings te vorm. Die vee kon dan die kraal se bin-nekant in stand hou deur die blare en uitgroeisels af te vreet, terwyl die Spekboom vrylik aan die buitekant kon groei.


Hopelik sal die simbiose van mens, grootwild en Spekboom in die toekoms hier in die Ooskaap weer tot ‘n vrugbare ekologiese en ekonomiese saambestaan ontwik-kel. Spekboom, die wonderplant van die Ooskaap, sal dalk uiteindelik as die red-dingsplant van die Ooskaap bekend staan!

Spekboom

The miracle plant of the twenty-first century: Stef Delport The Spekboom (Portulacaria Afra) is truly the miracle plant of the Eastern Cape and the Sundays River Valley. The Addo Elephant National Park is privileged to be the centre of the Spekboom region. The Valley Bushveld Biome (Xerix Succulent Thicket), of which The Spekboom certainly forms the main part, occurs mainly in the Eastern Cape's river valleys of the Gamtoos, Sundays, Fish and their surrounding areas.

The Xhosa name for the Spekboom is iGwanitsha and in English it is known by the descriptive name of Elephant's Food (and not as the Pork Bush according to the wrong direct translation from Afrikaans) as it forms up to 80% of the diet of elephants. An elephant eats up to 200kg of Spekboom leaves per day.

During this process they can strip almost all the leaves off the tree, but the tree very soon sprouts new growth. The broken or down-trodden branches also develop new roots and grow again as part of the thicket. Thus Spekboom flourishes if it is grazed upon, trodden and fertilised from the top. The destruction of large areas of Spekboom in the Eastern Cape was actually the result of over-grazing these bushes by grass and bush herbivores such as goats and sheep, which stripped them from the bottom and, in this doing, destroyed the Spekboom and the micro-climate under their protective thickets. The eyesore this resulted in is clearly visible for all to see on many farms. The Spekboom is a herbaceous shrub and the only specie in its genus and restricted to the south-eastern regions of South Africa. The Spekboom prefers summer rainfall with warm summers and a temperate winter climate. The occurrence of large numbers of Africa's big game in this area can be mainly attributed to the presence of the Spekboom. An interesting fact is that in the Spekboom regions of the Eastern Cape, virtually no large anthills of termites are found. North of the Kei River the tropical termites occur, while the temperate region termites are found south of the Eastern Cape Spekboom region.

The first Europeans to penetrate this part of the Eastern Cape were hunters who came to the Sundays River Valley as early as 1702. Thus, fifty years after the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape, this Valley was already known for its elephants, thanks to the abundance of the Spekboom. The Spekboom was known in Europe at an early stage.

In 1771 the well-known botanist, Linnaus, reported that one was flowering in Italy and when the French Revolution started in 1786, another was flowering in Vienna. Early travellers through southern Africa noted the occurence of Spekboom. In 1834 Thomas Pringle wrote in his African Sketches: "The Spekboom, with its light green leaves and lilac blossoms" ..... and later he refers to..." browsing on the succulent Spekboom, which clothed the skirts of the hills."

In the Cape of Good Hope Almanac of 1843 we find: "One of the most valuable shrubs ... is the Spekboom (Portulacaria Afra). It is found in great abundance on the stony ridges and affords excellent food for those large flocks of sheep and goats.... In severe drought the bush is truly invaluable."

Today the Spekboom supports the tourism industry of the Eastern Cape with its many game farms, nature parks and the Big Five which are being reintroduced to their old natural habitat everywhere. Today, an ever increasing number of farmers are moving away from veld-destroying goat and sheep farming to sustainable game farming.

The Spekboom flourishes in areas with an annual rainfall of 250 to 375 mm and warm summers. It reaches heights of 2,5m to 4,5m with a trunk which averages 20cm in diameter and can live up to 200 years. It has succulent green leaves of 1,3 to 2mm long. These are stubby or rounded and are joined by a small stem. It flowers in spring or early summer after good rains and has pink or light purple hermaphroditic flowers which produce good honey.

The fruit is small, berry-like, pink and transparent with 3 small wings and need follow-up rain soon after the fruit drop to germinate.

The Spekboom is exceptional as it uses 2 two methods of photosynthesis:

1. During the winter months when it is cool and damp, ordinary photosynthesis and better growth occur.

2. In dry conditions, winter or summer, a process is activated whereby the plant opens its stomata and 'inhales' carbon dioxide and builds up acid inside the plant. During the night the stomata are closed and the acids are broken down to release carbon dioxide inside the plant without losing moisture through its stomata. The available moisture is then stored by means of these carbon compounds in the leaves, stems and roots of the Spekboom.

Thus the Spekboom is an exceptional plant as it can utilize both these processes. These facts have been established thanks to the physiological studies by scientists in especially America and Japan.

In the 1960's and 1970's scientists realised that the Spekboom functions differently to other plants.

The Spekboom is even more special as its humus cannot burn. Thus a fire cannot destroy it and its organic material, as well as the carbon dioxide taken from the air, is finally stored in the ground. Studies done in the veld show that an average patch of Spekboom can capture up to 4 tons of carbon per year.

Global warming will eventually have catastrophic consequences for mankind.

One of the reasons is that carbon dioxide is building up in the atmosphere and this causes global warming. The Kyoto Protocol endeavours to halt this process by, among others, creating Carbon Sinks which will remove large quantities of carbon from the atmosphere in a natural way. Research has proved a Xerix Succelent Thicket and especially Spekboom in the Valley Bushveld to be one of the most successful Carbon Sinks in the world. A Spekboom can remove up to 100 times more carbon from the atmosphere than a pine tree of similar size can do. This type of Bushveld only occurs in South Africa, Mexico and Spain, but has been virtually destroyed in the latter countries. The Spekboom is thus going to cause a mind-boggling revolution in farming in the Eastern Cape. Millions should eventually be available to pay farmers to have the Spekboom veld restored by decreasing their livestock or planting Spekboom. At present projects are afoot to replant hectares in the vicinity of the Sundays River and Baviaanskloof with Spekboom. So, perhaps, in future, farmers will use the Spekboom to farm with carbon.

Nowadays trading is already taking place with Carbon Debits and Carbon Credits. Countries such as Germany and others which signed the Kyoto Protocol, are assessed and penalised with Carbon Debits because of their excessive pollution of the atmosphere as a result of the high

CO2 emissions of their vehicles and factories. They then have to buy Carbon Credits to neutralise their outstanding debits.

Farmers in the Eastern Cape who participate in this system and who have their carbon deposit evaluated by German certifiers, will be able to trade their carbon credits on the open open market. Sums of anything from $1 to

$600 per hectare, depending on the density of the Spekboom area, have been mentioned. So farmers will be able to sit on the stoep having coffee, while their Spekboom bring in the money.

Another fact contributing to the Spekbooms reputation is its ability to stimulate milk production. The traditional Xhosas believed that the grandmother should start eating lots of Spekboom leaves a month before her first daughter would give birth. A few days after the birth of a daughter, the baby was handed to the grandmother to suckle so that the young mother would be available to fetch wood and water as the grandmother aged. I mentioned this once to experts on grazing of the University of the Free State and they could confirm that research showed that the milk production increased considerably when cows grazed on Spekboom.

Spekboom is the staple diet of bush grazers such as kudu and other big game.

It is also digestible by herbivores like cattle, providing it is consumed with other available plants suitable for fodder. Thus it is an exceptional habitat for game as it not only provides food when grass and smaller bushes are no longer edible in the dry winters, but also serves as shelter during bitterly cold weather because of the moisture in the Spekboom which maintains some of its heat at night and thus acts as a good insulator.

Spekboom also differs from other bush shrub as it is edible for people. The leaves, which have a slight lemony taste, are suitable to use in salads.

The Spekboom is rich in manganese, cobalt and especially magnesium. It also contains large quantities of the micro elements, iodine and selenium.

Millipedes use concentrated iodine as a defensive mechanism and this explains the presence of large numbers of these in the Eastern Cape Valley bush. This also sheds light on the movement of thousands of millipedes across the tar road near Uitenhage, where dense areas of Spekboom occur next to the road.

People have been planting Spekboom as hedges over hundreds of years.

Spekboom branches take root quickly and start growing when put into the ground. By merely planting branches in the ground close to one another, one can create a living hedge which is ideal to enclose one's property. Black stock farmers have used these over centuries as fences for a kraal. The stock could then maintain the inside of the kraal by grazing on the leaves and protruding growths, while the outside could grow freely.

We hope the symbiosis of people, big game and the Spekboom will lead to fruitful ecological and economic co-existence in the Eastern Cape in future.

Spekboom, the miracle plant of the Eastern Cape, may eventually be known as the saviour plant of the Eastern Cape.

Bibliografie:
Anthony J. Mills + Richard M.Cowling: Rate of C 1. arbon Sequestration at Two Thicket Restoration Sites in the Eastern Cape, South Africa - 2006
2. Antoni V. Milewsky: Spekboom – The wonderplant of the Eastern Cape. African Wildlife Vol. 58 - 2004
3. Richard Cowling + Shirley Pierce: East Of The Cape – Conserving Eden Fernwood Press, Simon’s Town, R.S.A. - 2009

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