Erica inordinata is a lovely species that is not well known
because it occurs at a rather high altitude on the insular Kammanassie
Mountain Range near Uniondale. This robust plant produces lovely
crimson flowers that are very showy during the summer months. Cuttings
of this plant were collected in 1996 and established in the Kirstenbosch
rare collections nursery. It is such a showy species that it will
be propagated for the garden displays and for sale to the public.
Plants should be available at the Annual Plant fair in 2005.
Erica inordinata is a robust, erect shrub, reaching about
1.2 m in height. It has dark green leaves closely arranged around
sturdy stems. Bright red or crimson flowers are borne at or near
the end of short branches from September to January. The flowers
are tubular, very sticky and vary considerably in shape and size.
There appears to be no pattern to the shape of the flowers, which
occur on different parts of the same plant.The young flowers are
usually narrow-tubular, swelling around the anthers. The lower portion
of the flower gradually becomes fuller and more inflated with age.
Older flowers tend to constrict at the centre of the tube producing
a strange, throttled shape. The tubular shape and sticky nature
of the flowers suggest pollination by sunbirds with long, pointed
beaks or long proboscid flies that can hover while feeding on the
Erica inordinata grows on the upper slopes of the insular
Kammanassie Mountain where it occurs singularly or in fairly dense
stands. The Kammanassie Range is situated in the Little Karroo between
the Great Swartberg and the Outeniqua Mountains. This species grows
in acid, leached soils derived from weathered quartzite on the south
and southwestern slopes, at an altitude varying from 1 500 to 1
900 m. The high altitude and southerly aspect ensures that it gets
extra moisture from coastal cloud banks and that it experiences
cooler conditions than on the surrounding Karoo plains.
Growing Erica inordinata
This plant grows successfully in containers up to
30 cm in diameter. The roots prefer to be confined and need good
drainage. Plants should therefore be planted in rockeries where
the soil is a little elevated or on a gentle slope. It requires
full sunlight and free air circulation.
Plant in well-drained, acidic soils and mulch with
rotted compost or wood chips. Regular pruning will improve the shape
of the plant. Pruning also increases branching and flower production.
Plant in pots or in the ground. Water thoroughly and
then allow the soil to partially dry out between watering. They
should be regularly fed with seaweed-based, organic fertilizers.
Controlled release fertilizers in the form of granules are also
beneficial. These granules should be mixed into the soil prior to
planting rather than sprinkled on the surface. Controlled release
fertilizers are designed to release nutrients when conditions are
hot and wet. If granules are concentrated on the surface, they can
cause burning to the delicate surface roots typical of ericas.
At Kirtstenbosch, this plant was established from cuttings collected
in the field. Fresh, actively growing material was selected and
treated with rooting hormone for semi-hardwood cuttings. Heel cuttings
were taken using side shoots and placed in specialized propagation
units with heated benches and overhead mist. The rooting medium
consists of fine, milled pine bark and polystyrene balls. Cuttings
root after six to eight weeks.
Seed is very difficult to collect because the flowers are so sticky.
The seed becomes attached to the flower and is almost impossible
to remove. It is possible that the dead, dry, seed-covered flowers
tumble around the mountain slope and eventually settle in some resting
place until fire triggers the new germination and growth cycle.
Seed, if available, should be sown in autumn and subjected to the
normal smoke treatment.
Erica inordinata is classified as rare in nature, but it
should not be regarded as threatened by normal threats such as urbanization
or alien invader plants. It is restricted in distribution, but common
on the upper slopes of the Kammanassie. It may become threatened
if there are too many fires that prevent it from building up its
seed banks. The challenge for it and many other plants will be the
ability to survive the stresses of environmental change in the form
of global warming. Initial experimental findings by researchers
(G. Midgley and C. F. Musil - pers. comm.) at the Kirstenbosch Research
Centre are that a few degrees rise in average temperature has a
serious effect on germination of fynbos plants.
- Baker, H.A. 1969. Three new species and a new variety of Erica.
Journal of South African Botany 35: 25-33.
- Schumann, D. (Dolf) & Kirsten, G. (Gerard). 1992. Ericas
of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden