Elephant Bush: The Air Purifying Plant

You might have heard about the Elephant Bush, also commonly referred to as Spekboom or Portulacaria afra, that some people are calling the ultimate miracle plant. This succulent is praised for being super easy to propagate, care for, and most importantly, for its ability to purify the air. However, its air purifying capabilities come with a caveat.

Portulacaria Afra – elephant bush, spekboom, or miniature jade

The Elephant Bush is a perennial succulent shrub native to South Africa and popular in gardens and houses worldwide. It’s a highly adaptable, low-maintenance plant that can tolerate a fair amount of neglect. It’s also one of the easiest plants to propagate as you literally only need to stick a cutting in the appropriate soil, and it will root fairly quickly.

However, lately the Elephant Bush has been making the news for its above-average ability to purify the air. Research has proven that the Portucalaria afra has the ability to act as an extremely effective carbon sponge.

This means it has the ability to remove more carbon from the air than the majority of other plants. For reference, a hectare of Elephant Bushes can remove more carbon from the atmosphere than a hectare of deciduous forest such as the Amazon Rainforest.

However, this powerful air-purifying effect only truly comes into play when large amounts of Elephant Bush are planted together.

An additional benefit of the Miniature Jade plant is that it can thrive under a variety of climatic conditions. Its natural environment in South Africa is one that often suffers from prolonged droughts, so the plant has learned to adapt accordingly. This means that even in areas with water shortages, the Spekboom can be used as a low-cost and powerful weapon for cleaner air under the right circumstances.

Should You Choose A Plant That Cleans The Air?

You can, but unfortunately, the purifying effect of plants is only noteworthy under very specific conditions and in large amounts of plants. For you, this means a couple of houseplants aren’t going to purify your air a whole lot.

However, there are some studies that state that if you have a green wall filled with suitable plant species in your home, it might be able to improve the quality of the air in your house.

Research like this proves that the power of air-purifying plants lies in the number of plants in the same area. In many places around the world, people are using the Elephant Bush in vast numbers to create a carbon sponge.

For example, The South African government is seeing the potential of restoring the lands where Spekboom used to grow as one of many tools against climate change. Farming in the Eastern Cape, the area where the Elephant Bush is native to, has led to a massive reduction in the number of Spekboom trees. Many projects are now in place to revive the number of trees again.

The government started one of the world’s largest ecological experiments with the goal of restoring an area of thicket of over one million hectares. That’s almost 200 times the size of Manhattan. The Spekboom is the dominant tree of the thicket ecosystem.

More projects in South Africa focus on using the miniature Jade Plant as a powerful tool against climate change, and internationally the idea is also gaining traction. 

However, experts do warn that although the Elephant Bush can have a special role to play, it’s by no means the silver bullet against climate change.  So keeping a few in your yard shouldn’t be seen as a way to offset your carbon footprint. Even if you have 100 trees, it’s unlikely to be effective.

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