Erica cerinthoides is named after the genus
Cerinthe, the honey wort, because of the similarity of the
flowers and their arrangement. Francis Masson first introduced Erica
cerinthoides into cultivation in England, and it featured in
the Botanical Magazine in 1794. It was a favourite species in cultivation
at that time, but is seldom seen in cultivation these days.
Erica cerinthoides is the most widely distributed of the
heaths in southern Africa. It occurs from the Cedarberg Mountains
in the Western Cape, though the Eastern Cape, Transkei, Natal Drakensberg,
into Mpumalanga, Lesotho, Swaziland, and as far north as the Soutpansberg
in the Northern Province. It is found in different habitats in the
Cape where it grows from the coastal plains to the mountain tops.
Erica cerinthoides is an extremely variable species over
its distribution range. It varies particularly in growth habit,
hairiness of leaves and flowers, and in size, shape and colour of
of the differences are found in the summer rainfall region resulting
in the recognition of a separate variety Erica cerinthoides
var. barbertona, which has short flower tubes.
A white flowering form has also been recorded from Mpumalanga and
Erica cerinthoides is one of a few ericas that resprout
from a woody rootstock after fire. The result is the production
of clusters of lovely inflated, tubular, red flowers at the ends
of short branches, which form neat, colourful shrublets in a bleak
Fire thus keeps this plant in good healthy condition and will stimulate
flowering at any time of the year. After a number of years they
will grow taller, become straggly and produce fewer flowers. Their
ability to survive and respond to fire and to freely produce seed
is a major factor in their success as a survivor of adverse growing
Plants from the southern Cape are known to grow taller than those
from other areas. They have been recorded to grow over 1.5m tall
if they are not burnt. These specimens may become very woody and
devoid of foliage save for at the very ends of their branches where
a few leaves and depauperate flowers may be found.
Growing Erica cerinthoides
Any plant with such a wide distribution has distinct advantages
over those confined to a narrow range. Erica cerinthoides
is a tough, well tempered plant that grows easily in different parts
of South Africa, and may be expected to survive for a long time
in the garden. They require well drained acidic soils (ideal pH
between 5.5 and 6.7), and a sunny position. They are suitable for
flat beds, or rockeries and do very well in containers where they
can be kept compact and well shaped by pruning after flowering.
Erica cerinthoides is not hardy to severe frost, but should
resprout if damaged by frost. The showy red flowers will attract
bird pollinators to the garden.
Feeding is essential for the maintenance of good healthy plants
and active plant growth. Regular applications of organic seaweed
derived fertilizer will give good results without causing damage
to the plants or losses. Controlled release fertilizers such as
osmocote or horticote, which release food on warm days in the presence
of water, have proved very effective providing that they are low
in phosphates and not too much fertilizer is applied to the medium.
Follow instructions provided with the product or apply twenty or
thirty granules per plant in autumn and spring. Kelpac is also very
useful as a stimulant of root growth and for relief of stress caused
by heat stress or root disturbance.
Erica cerinthoides is easily grown from seed or cuttings.
Seed is sown in autumn and seed that has been treated with the Instant
Smoke Plus Seed Primer smoke extract show improved germination.
A suitable sowing medium consists of two parts acidic river sand
: two parts composted pine bark : one part loam. Seedlings germinate
after six weeks and are delicate in their early stages. Particular
care should be taken to water gently and to protect the seedlings
from direct sunlight. Seedlings may be planted out into individual
bags or pots once they have grown to a height of at least 1 cm,
but only planted out in the garden once they have grown to about
10 cm. Planting should preferably be done in autumn or winter, but
they may be planted at other times of the year providing that they
are well cared for and watered during the hot months.
Vegetative propagation should be done using proper rooting facilities,
i.e. overhead misting and heating from below. These facilities are
unfortunately not available to most amateur growers. The best time
to root cuttings is in autumn or spring. Fresh actively growing
thin shoots taken as heel cuttings and treated with rooting hormone
for semi-hardwood material give best results. Roots may develop
after eight weeks and are very fine and delicate. Rooted plants
should be hardened off away from the mist unit for a few weeks before
the cuttings are planted out.
- Baker, H.A. and Oliver, E.G.H. 1967. Ericas in Southern Africa.
Purnell, Cape Town and Johannesburg
- Marloth, Rudolf 1932. The Flora of South Africa. Vol. 111 Section
1. Darker Bros. & Co. Cape Town: Wheldon & Wesley, Ltd.
- Schumann, D (Dolf) & Kirsten, G (Gerard). 1992. Ericas of
South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg Cape Town