Theft of spekboom a new trend

The trunks of a spekboom which was cut down by thieves.

Decades-old spekboom shrubs (portulacaria afra) have been the target of thieves during two night raids in Muizenberg – one Sunday June 10 and the other on Tuesday June 26.

The chairman of the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society, Glenn Babb, said thieves had carried off dozens of his neighbour’s plants after cutting through their stems.

He said a night watchman had spotted the perpetrators – two men in a Corsa bakkie.

“The largest spekboom was probably 60 years old,” said Mr Babb.

Mr Babb said he had reported the theft to Muizenberg police but was waiting for a case number to be issued.

Patrick Dowling, of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, said the spekboom, as far as he knew, had no specific cultural or muti significance other than its thirst quenching, cooling and rash-relief properties. So it would not be sought after by a special market.

He said perhaps someone had discovered that it had become a popular gardener’s friend, was water wise, not fussy, pretty, indigenous and easy to propagate.

“An efficient cutting grower could harvest several hundred ‘seedlings’ from a large parent plant and, at R20 or so per ‘boom’, make some extra cash,” he said.

He said the spekboom was also well known for its ability to store carbon dioxide – four tons per year per hectare – although one would need billions of hectares to deal with the thousands of tons of carbon dioxide human industry expelled every second.

“It helps but was probably not the motive of the thieves,” he said.

Professor Eugene Moll, from UWC’s department of biodiversity and conservation biology, said the stems could perhaps have been cut to be used in the burgeoning spekboom bonsai trade.

“The easiest way to make a bonsai is to use a big stem. In this way, I am told, you can make one in a year rather than wait decades to grow one,” he said.