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Spekboom Challenge alert: Plant it at home but stay away from natural veld

20 February 2020 3:52 PM
Tags:
Fynbos
Cape Floral Kingdom
#spekboomchallenge
invasive plant species
Elzanne Singels

Environmental consultant Elzanne Singels is worried that do-gooders in the Western Cape could trigger genetic pollution.

The resilient spekboom plant (Portulacaria Afra) is being touted as the answer to offsetting South Africa's carbon emissions.

The City of Cape Town itself has joined the Spekboom Challenge which will see it planting more than 500 trees in partnership with the Newlands Nursery.

RELATED: Spekboom to be used to offset carbon

However, many people seem unaware that planting spekboom in the wild could endanger our unique and fragile Cape Floral Kingdom.

CapeTalk's Lester Kiewit finds out more from environmental consultant and conservation ecologist Elzanne Singels, a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town's (UCT) Archaeology Department.

Spekboom in Tokai Park. Image credit: Elzanne Singels on Facebook

So the winter rainfall region, which is the Cape floristic region, it is not indigenous to... It does occur in huge parts of sub-Saharan Africa where it is endemic, but it is definitely not indigenous or endemic to the Western Cape.

Elzanne Singels, PhD candidate - UCT Archaeology Department

In its natural habitat, under drought stress, it is better than most plants to take carbon out of the atmosphere. An article I've just read says '20 kgs of carbon per square metre'.

Elzanne Singels, PhD candidate - UCT Archaeology Department

Singels emphasises however that spekboom is no different in this regard to any other succulent plants, which South Africa has in amazing diversity.

All succulent plants will have an increased capacity to fix carbon in comparison to a 'normal' plant.

Elzanne Singels, PhD candidate - UCT Archaeology Department

At the risk of bursting your spekboom bubble, she says there are arguably far more effective ways to mitigate your own carbon footprint:

You would have to plant rugby- and rugby- and rugby-fields just to off-set one person's carbon footprint.

Elzanne Singels, PhD candidate - UCT Archaeology Department

She also points out that yes, spekboom is a species, but many different genetic variations and strains have evolved in specific regions.

Additionally, nursery stock has been bred into different strains, so there are about four or five different strains available in nurseries. That stock is not identical to wild populations, and not all wild populations are identical.

Elzanne Singels, PhD candidate - UCT Archaeology Department

If someone, however well-intentioned, plants spekboom in natural veld it could cause genetic pollution and in the Western Cape specifically, it could then be classified as an invasive species.

She cites the case she came upon this week:

In the Tokai Park which is one of the few remaining fragments of Cape lowland fynbos, somebody had planted spekboom in this very vulnerable piece of veld where loads of critically endangered species occur and that could possibly be out-competed by an invasion of spekboom.

Elzanne Singels, PhD candidate - UCT Archaeology Department

Whenever you decide to plant indigenous varieties advises Singels, do your research online first.

Plants can also "escape" from gardens, especially if they border natural areas. This often happens with bougainvillea and "Christmas trees" she says.

This debate is so important. It has precipitated trying to help the greater public understand these definitions of literally, what is a species, even.

Elzanne Singels, PhD candidate - UCT Archaeology Department

I was so glad when the challenge started; I'm just very disheartened at seeing possible genetic pollution and even invasion.

Elzanne Singels, PhD candidate - UCT Archaeology Department

For more essential info on the spekboom including how to incorporate it into your meals and into animal feed, take a listen:


20 February 2020 3:52 PM
Tags:
Fynbos
Cape Floral Kingdom
#spekboomchallenge
invasive plant species
Elzanne Singels

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