Erica baueri subsp. baueri is one of the most popular
and widely cultivated of the South African species. It is one of
the few ericas that regularly appear in popular South African plant
books or articles. This may be attributed to its showy flowers and
that it is fairly hardy and long lived in cultivation.
in South African ericas developed in England during the early days
of botanical exploration at the Cape. Specimens and seed were sent
back and grown at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and by enthusiasts.
The interest in ericas accelerated after the arrival of two famous
collectors, Carl Thunberg and Francis Masson, in 1772. They collected
many new species and sent them back to England for cultivation.
Ericas also became favourite subjects for botanical artists resulting
in several important works on the genus. In one of these, H.C. Andrews's
Heathery, published in 1805, Andrews depicted Erica bauera
for the first time. He named it after his fellow artist at Kew,
Francis Bauer (1758 - 1810) who was botanical artist to King George
III. Erica baueri was also depicted in Flowering Plants
of Africa in 1946.
A threatened plant in nature
This erica is confined to certain limited areas of the Riversdale
and Albertinia districts between the Langeberg and the sea and is
becoming increasingly scarce. Within this area it is found growing
on sandy flats amongst the tall thatching grass, Thamnochortus
insignis. It is likely that a combination of
farming activities and field harvesting practices of thatch has
resulted in its scarcity and classification in the Red Data book
as 'Vulnerable' to extinction.
The commercial harvesting of thatch may be a threat to Erica
baueri subsp.baueri. Thatch plants are encouraged to
grow in a number of ways. Areas are burnt or ploughed to clear them
of other, especially woody, plants. Thatch plants colonize the disturbed
land forming dense stands that are easy and more economic to harvest.
Another method is to brush-cut the vegetation around the thatch
plants creating a dense mono-stand of these plants.
heath is a tall species reaching a height up to 1.5 m. It
presents a sparse, upright woody growth habit when not pruned. The
leaves are small and distinctively grey-green, which makes this
species easy to recognize even when not in flower. The flowers are
tubular in shape and grouped in attractive clusters near the ends
of the branches. They may be white or pink or a combination of the
two colours. Flowers may be produced at any time of the year.
The reduced leaf size and grey texture of the leaves help this plant
survive in an area of relatively low rainfall and where they are
subjected to the desiccating effects of persistent, strong summer
wind. Erica baueri subsp.baueri may therefore be
classified as a waterwise plant.
Growing Erica baueri subsp.baueri
This erica grows in nature in deep, well-drained,
sandy acid soils. It is nevertheless most adaptable and will grow
in a range of soil types. The heavier the soil (more clay content)
the less water required. The important factor is that the soil medium
must be allowed to drain between watering. This can be a problem
in summer rainfall areas where large amounts of water fall in a
short space of time.
The ideal pH is between 5.5 and 6.7. Soils made up
from quartzite or sandstone is ideal and those derived from dolerite
or granite are also suitable. A medium consisting of two parts acid
river sand, two parts composted pine bark and one part loam is used
to make up our potting mixture.
Weekly application of organic seaweed derived fertilizers has proved
a safe method of feeding. Better growth may be achieved by applying
controlled release fertilizers such as osmocote or horticote, but
be careful not to apply too many granules per plant. Twenty to thirty
granules applied per plant each autumn or spring is recommended.
Kelpac stimulates strong root development and helps the plant overcome
stress such as excessive heat or limited root disturbance.
Bridal heath is easily grown from seed, which should be sown in
autumn. Treatment with smoke or smoke extract greatly enhances germination.
The seedlings take about six to ten weeks to germinate and are delicate
in their early stages. It is important not to sow too thickly as
seedlings growing too close together and over watering may result
in damping off. The young seedlings should be protected from heavy
rainfall and direct sunlight by placing the seed trays under cover
while providing good light and aeration. The seedlings should be
watered gently to avoid washing them out of the tray or bending
their delicate stems. Allow the young plants to reach a height of
about 1cm before planting out into individual bags. Grow the plants
up to at least 10cm before planting out in autumn or winter.
Propagation from cuttings is more difficult and should be done
with suitable facilities such as bottom heat and overhead misting
or fogging. Cuttings should preferably be taken in autumn, but may
also be rooted in spring. Fresh actively growing thin side shoots
taken as heel cuttings yield the best results. A rooting hormone
for semi hardwood cuttings applied to the cut surface or heel results
in quicker and better rooting. Rooting may take from eight to sixteen
weeks or sometimes longer. The roots are very delicate and rooted
cuttings should be planted out with great care.
Erica baueri subsp. baueri in the Garden
This is a hardy species suitable for most gardens in South
Africa where the humidity is not too high. It grows well in summer
rainfall areas that receive mild frost as long as it is watered
through the winter. Plants also do well under relatively harsh windy
conditions at the coast.
The ideal place to plant is where there is good drainage in flat
garden beds, on slopes or in rockeries. Although not having the
ideal growth habit, it may be planted in pots as long as it is regularly
pruned to retain good shape. Pruning will also increase flower production,
producing splendid displays. The flowers will attract bird pollinators
to the garden. This erica is a pleasing addition when used in flower
- Andrews, H.C. 1854. The Heathery 6 vols., London.
- Baker, H.A. and Oliver, E.G.H. 1967. Ericas in Southern Africa.
Purnell, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- Batton, Auriol. 1986. Flowers of Southern Africa. Fransden
- Guthrie, F. and Bolus, H. 1905 'Erica' In Thistleton-Dyer's Flora
- Hilton-Taylor, Craig, 1996. Red Data List of Southern African
Plants. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Schumann,D (Dolf) & Kirsten,G (Gerard) 1992. Ericas of South
Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg Cape Town.
- Johann Liebenberg of Liebenwerda Wholesale Nursery (personal communication).