It is not often that one unearths a gem that has developed
by chance. The hybridisation of two erica species in the Harold
Porter Botanical Garden at Betty's Bay has yielded a wonderful hybrid
with superb potential for pot culture and as a rockery plant.
The story begins, as so many others have, with the horticultural
exploits of John Winter erstwhile curator and plant collector remembered
for his sterling work in developing Kirstenbosch into the internationally
renowned gardens of today. He collected extensively in the Cape
Floral Kingdom to build up superb collections of the Protea and
Erica families, which formed the backbone of the collections we
Ericas are one of his passions and he made numerous trips up mountains
to gather seed or cuttings of a variety of beautiful species. One
of these was Erica nana, 'nana' refers to its low spreading
growth habit. It grows at a relatively high altitude on the Hottentots
Holland and Kogelberg range; this limited range and habitat classifies
it as 'rare'.
species is slow growing and sprawls over rocks and cliff faces forming
a densely growing, spreading shrub, which may reach a metre in diameter
and only 300mm high. Where it is found between rocks and in crevices
it may become taller and will tolerate semi-shade as long as the
light quality is good.
A profusion of luminescent tubular yellow flowers cover the entire
bush from September and October.
The other parent, Erica patersonia, is by contrast a tall
species supporting the adage that opposites are attracted to each
other! This plant produces a number of erect branches densely covered
with leaves and growing up to a metre tall. It produces spikes of
packed tubular yellow flowers that look like corn on the cob hence
its common name, 'mealie heath'. This species occurs in marshy flats
and coastal plains from Cape Point to the Hermanus area. Urban development,
farming and flower picking are serious threats to its survival.
Both Erica nana and Erica patersonia are good horticultural
plants and not difficult to grow.
John Winter collected seed of Erica nana in 1971 and supplied
some to the Harold Porter Botanical Garden. These plants grew well
in the nursery and soon flowered. This event led to its intimate
encounter with Erica patersonia, which flowers from April to November.
Seed collected from plants in the garden produced a sport that was
recognised by the curator, Alfred van der Zeyde, as something different.
The plant was isolated and planted in a garden bed outside the curator's
office. The result was a superb hybrid combining all the best attributes
of both parents. It retains the lovely compact habit of Erica
nana while introducing the dense foliage of Erica patersonia.
Hybrids are known to display vigour and this one is no exception.
Cuttings brought back to Kirstenbosch by Deon Kotze proved easy
to root and soon a number of plants were established in the collection.
The golden hue of the flowers gave rise to its registered name Erica
'Gengold', which was given it by the famed Erica collector
and co-author of the book, Ericas of South Africa, Dolf Schumann.
Erica 'Gengold' shows more attributes inherited from Erica
nana. It forms a densely growing, compact plant with a thick
woody base. It is an ideal pot plant producing a sturdy, neat shrublet
with closely-knit branches no more than 300mm in height. It flowers
in September and October producing magnificent displays of bright
yellow blooms that cover the entire plant. Like Erica nana,
it tolerates light shade, but will flower better if placed in full
It is ideally suited to medium or large pots and should be planted
in a well- drained acid growing medium. It holds its shape and therefore
rarely has to be pruned. It will also do well in rockeries where
it can cascade over and between the rocks and has optimum drainage.
Erica Gengold is a cultivar registered by Kirstenbosch
that may only be grown by nurseries licensed to do so.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden