Hikers walking on Table Mountain will experience the delights of the amazing diversity of plant life and the many flowers that are to be seen every month of the year. Anyone walking the higher slopes and plateaus are also likely to see a really lovely red Erica with soft fir-like leaves. Erica abietina subsp. abietina is found nestled amongst rocks or in patches of woody fynbos where it displays beautiful, waxy, red flowers.
Erica abietina subsp. abietina is a sturdy shrub up to 1.5 m high. It arises from a single woody stem and branches freely to produce a dense growth. The mid to upper branches are clothed with a dense arrangement of green, needle-like, ericoid leaves. The flowers are clustered near the ends of the branches and are bright red, tubular, curved and flared at the mouth. Flowers are produced from midsummer to midwinter, i.e. from December to August, but appear occasionally throughout the year.
Erica abietina subsp. abietina is common within conservation areas and so this species has been classified in the Red List as Least Concern (National Red List of South African Plants: http://www.sanbi.org/biodiversity/reddata.htm. accessed March 2009).
Distribution and habitat
This species is endemic to the upper slopes and plateau of Table Mountain. It is commonly found growing above the 500 m contour amongst rocks in full sunlight.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Erica abietina subsp. abietina is part of the Erica abietina complex (Oliver & Oliver 2002). Some of the subspecies in the Erica abietina complex are: E. abietina subsp. atrorosea (= E. phylicifolia); E. abietina subsp. constantiana (= E. conica); and E. abietina subsp. aurantiaca (= E. grandiflora).
The name abietina is derived from Latin and means like a fir tree, and refers to the leaves which resemble those of fir trees of the genus Abies.
Erica abietina subsp. abietina is found in Peninsula Sandstone fynbos. This vegetation type consists of poor, well-drained, sandy and stony soils derived from the quartzites of the Table Mountain Series. This erica is one of many red flowered plants found on Table Mountain in summer, which provide food for birds and insects. Its colourful tubular flowers attract sunbirds and the ‘Table Mountain Beauty' butterfly, Aeropetes tulbaghia that feeds on its nectar. Some of the other red-flowered species include Crassula coccinea, Disa uniflora and Disa ferruginea (cluster Disa), Watsonia tabularis and Chasmanthe eathiopica.
Uses and cultural aspects
Erica abietina subsp. abietina is quite hardy in Cape Mediterranean conditions and is a useful addition to a fynbos garden.
Growing Erica abietina subsp. abietina
Erica abietina subsp. abietina should be planted in gardens where it is in full sunlight and is well ventilated. This species performs best when planted in rockeries on sloping ground, terraces or embankments and with other fynbos plants. Companion plants may include other ericas, buchus, brunias, and restios.
It will also do well in a medium-sized container in a well-drained growing medium: equal parts of composted pine bark or pine needles and river sand, and a little (20%) loam may also be added.
Regular pruning is recommended to keep the plants well branched and compact. Plants that are pruned are more presentable, last longer and produce more flowers.
Erica plants are adapted to living in poor soils and therefore should be regularly fed with diluted organic liquid or small amounts of organic pellet fertilizers.
It is propagated vegetatively by rooting fresh semi-hardwood tip or heel cuttings. Cuttings are rooted in multi-trays on heated benches under mist spray. Cuttings are rooted in autumn or spring in a rooting medium of equal parts bark and polystyrene chips. A semi-hardwood rooting hormone is used to aid the rooting process.
This species grows easily from seed sown in well-drained, acidic, sandy soil and subjected to smoke treatment. Seed is normally sown from late summer into autumn, i.e. March to May.
References and further reading
- Adamson, R.S. & Salter, T.M. 1950. Flora of the Cape Peninsula. Juta, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town and Missouri Botanical Garden.
- Oliver, E.G.H. & Oliver, I.M. 2002. The genus Erica (Ericaceae) in southern Africa: taxonomic notes 1. Bothalia 32: 37–61.
- Schumann, D. & Kirsten, G. 1992. Ericas of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
- website: The National Red List of South African Plants (March 2009): http://www.sanbi.org/biodiversity/reddata.htm.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden