It is a soft-wooded, semi-evergreen upright shrub or small tree, usually 2.5–4.5 metres (8–15 ft) tall. Similar in appearance to the "jade plant" Crassula ovata (family Crassulaceae), P. afra has smaller and rounder pads and more compact growth (shorter internodal spaces, down to 1.5 mm). It is much hardier, faster growing, more loosely branched, and has more limber tapering branches than Crassula once established.
Distribution and habitat
It is common in the east of South Africa. It is also found in the karoo of the Western Cape. Spekboom is found most prolifically within a specific habitat known as Thicket, which locally is often called noorsveld, after the high number of succulent Euphorbia species, which are often called noors plants.
It is capable of either C3 or CAM carbon fixation, depending on factors such as the season and the age of the leaves. In the wilds of South Africa, large plants do survive the winter frosts by growing dense enough to provide their own natural cover. Drought-tolerant and fire-resistant, it will endure desert sun and heat once established, which the jade plant will not.
- "Portulacaria afra Monograph". Phoenixbonsai.com. Retrieved 2011-01-20.
- Lonnie J. Guralnick, Patricia A. Rorabaugh & Zac Hanscom, III (1984). "Seasonal shifts of photosynthesis in Portulacaria afra (L.) Jacq.". Plant Physiology 76 (3): 643–646. doi:10.1104/pp.76.3.643. PMC 1064348. PMID 16663899.
- D'Cruz, Mark. "Ma-Ke Bonsai Care Guide for Portulacaria afra". Ma-Ke Bonsai. Retrieved 2010-12-07.