Its humble claim to fame is as a beautiful plant used for indoor decoration and food and medicinal purposes. It is known to adapt to multiple conditions from the rainy tropics to the arid lands typical to South Africa. But this modest plant has acquired international fame as a plant capable of sponging out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a higher rate per hectare than even the Amazon rainforests! Say hello to the Elephant Food, just one of its many names.
A surprising ally in the fight against global warming, the humble Portulacaria Afra (Elephant Food, Porkbush and Spekboom in Afrikaans) is a common, luscious, fleshy, and juicy plant used as a decorating plant. But it has a surprisingly important quality as it is effective in binding carbon dioxide in semi-arid landscapes and thicket vegetation.
A hectare of Porkbush consequently can absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than any other plant or tree, even more than the Amazon forests, known to take in almost half of the world’s greenhouse gases. This makes the Porkbush one of the most promising weapons in the fight against global warming. The plant is a succulent, hardy and soft-wooded bush with brownish stems. The leaves are plump, juicy, and bright green.
Some Alarming CO2 Facts
Check this out: the amount of carbon dioxide has spiked alarmingly in the past decades. It peaked at an alarming 405 parts per million in 2017, a 3 million years high when temperatures were 2-3 degrees higher than during the pre-industrial years and the sea level was 15-25 meters higher.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the excess presence of which is contributing to the global rise in earth’s temperature and climate change.
The primary concern of mankind is that we are producing carbon dioxide faster than the environment can absorb, creating a carbon dioxide surplus that is trapping the heat.
Offsetting Carbon Mechanism Of PorkBush
The Porkbush can absorb CO2 more efficiently than other plants. It can do this through its ability to photosynthesize or manufacture food through 2 different methods of photosynthesis. Porkbush works in a dual-switch process whereby it can grow and flourish as both a rainforest plant when there is plenty of water around and readily adapt as desert cacti in arid conditions.
One is the normal process which most plants use.
The other is a rare method called CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism), a photosynthetic adaptation to drought which it uses when the conditions are arid. The singular quality of this plant is that it can perform photosynthesis at night by storing solar energy. This makes the plant more effective per hectare than any rainforest, including the Amazon rainforests, at carbon fixing. The plant manages to isolate and store more than 4.2 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year. Planting 10 hectares of pork bush is as good as taking as many as a couple dozen cars off the road for a year.
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It also is excellent at restoring natural ecosystems and alleviating poverty. The carbon emission market allows businesses to sell and trade carbon credits. Kuzuko Lodge is selling the excess of carbon credits to plant even more of these plants with the money. The planting of porkbush is also labor-intensive and can create thousands of jobs.
But its most promising role remains that of a carbon dioxide sponge even in arid areas. If it can be a success story in South Africa, the porkbush success story can be replicated anywhere in the world. It can reverse the damage that we humans have done to the environment.
Images: Elise Kirsten