Erica jasminiflora

Salisb.

Family: Ericaceae
Common name: jasmine heath, trompetheide (Afr.)
ENDANGERED


Erica jasminiflora

Salisbury gave this erica the specific name 'jasminiflora' (jasmine-like flowers) which more than adequately describes its beautiful porcelain-pink flowers. Erica jasminiflora was cultivated in Britain as long ago as 1796 from seed gathered at Caledon by Francis Mason.

Status: Endangered
This means that this erica is 'in danger of extinction and its survival is unlikely if the causal factors continue operating.' Its numbers have been reduced to a critical level and its habitats have been so drastically reduced that it is deemed to be in immediate danger of extinction.

Description
Erica jasminiflora forms an erect spindly shrub growing up to 600 mm high. It produces thin, sparsely arranged, twiggy branches at the tips of which are produced three or four beautiful jasmine-like flowers.

The flowers are narrowly tubular, about 32 mm long, displaying a slight swelling at the throat before ending in broad, star-shaped lobes. Pink striped corolla tubesThe sticky flowers vary in colour from white to pale rose with deeper red veins along the tube. The leaves are very small and closely arranged around thin, wiry stems. This species is spectacular in flower, but is inconspicuous in its habitat when not flowering.

Distribution
Erica jasminiflora was once common on the Swartberg near Caledon and the hills around the town. It grows in dry fynbos and renosterveld at an altitude of approximately 200 m in the hard, gravely, reddish soils overlying clay that has been derived from shale. It is exposed to very harsh, hot and windy summer conditions with temperatures regularly exceeding 30º C. The habitat of this plant has been severely reduced due to agricultural practices such as wheat farming, construction of a road and fires. This species only remains in a very small area near Shaw's Mountain and probably amounts to less than 100 plants.

Ecology
Sticky flowersErica jasminiflora is a small, slow-growing, woody species that reproduces well after fire.

This species flowers from November to March. Its sticky flowers is are a deterrent to bees and other insects that seek to rob it of nectar by biting holes in the side of the corolla and thereby not pollinating the flower. Flies of the Nemestrinidae and Tabanidae families may act as pollinators as they are able to probe for nectar with their long proboscises using the non-sticky flower lobes as landing platforms, or by hovering during the process.

Growing Erica jasminiflora

Seed of this species is hard to come by and recorded to be difficult to germinate. This may be because these records were made before smoke treatment of certain fynbos families improved germination rates dramatically. Seed is not collected from the wild population as this will be detrimental to the survival of the natural population.

Erica jasminiflora roots easily from tip or heel cuttings, which are taken in autumn or spring. The cuttings are treated with a rooting hormone used to root semi-hardwood cuttings and placed in a rooting medium consisting of equal parts of 6 mm milled pine bark and polystyrene balls. Multi-compartment trays are preferable as they provide better drainage. The cuttings are placed on heated propagation beds providing bottom heat averaging 25º C. Rooting is relatively slow, taking about six to eight weeks to initiate. The cuttings are removed to a hardening off bench when the roots have developed enough to sustain the new plant. They may be carefully planted out a few weeks later into a potting medium made for fynbos plants. A suitable potting medium consists of equal parts acid river sand, composted pine bark or pine needles and 20% loam by volume. No manure or chemical fertilizer should be added.

Erica jasminiflora grows well in pots and is reasonably hardy. The only problem experienced at Kirstenbosch is tip dieback, which is restricted to very limited parts of the plant and does not result in death of the whole plant. These dead sections should be cut away whenever they occur. Regular pruning is recommended to produce a more branched pot subject. Plants survive in garden situations if they are planted in sunny and well-drained areas such as rockeries. Mulching with wood chips or compost is recommended to keep the surface cool.

Plant of this species will be available for sale at the Kirstenbosch Garden Fair 8-9 March 2003.

Conservation Initiatives

In situ conservation
The last remaining population on Shaw's Pass has been monitored for a number of years. This monitoring has shown a dramatic decline in the population since the 1970's. In 1977, 150 plants were counted. The population dropped to 50 plants in 1981, 15 in 1982, 11 in 1983, 1 in 1984 and the sole survivor was reported dead in 1985. Part of the population was destroyed by the construction of a road. A fire started to create grazing for sheep, spread and destroyed more plants. The area was fenced off in the 1970's and attempts to resurrect the population through appropriate burn management and reseeding failed. The species was thought to be extinct until 1980 when seedlings appeared after an accidental fire. These plants flowered and produced seed. Another fire swept through the area, but more seedlings appeared and about 100 plants have been counted in this natural population which amounts to less than one hectare. The land on which the plant occurs belongs to the Caledon Divisional Council and was leased to Cape Nature Conservation for a number of years. In 1992 Nature Conservation did not renew the lease and it became known that the new leaseholder was planning to develop part of the site.

When these plans became known, the South African Botanical Society and the Caledon Wildflower Society lobbied the Caledon Divisional Council and Cape Nature Conservation about the conservation importance of the site. In addition to Erica jasminiflora, an endangered species of Proteaeaceae, Leucadendron cryptocephalum also occurs in the area. The proposal was that Cape Nature Conservation would purchase the site and manage it as a nature reserve. Protracted negotiations with the local authorities in Caledon have thus far not resulted in progress in this direction. In the meantime the site burnt again in 2002. The efforts of local conservation bodies such as the Caledon Wildflower Society need to be supported by the local authorities and by conservation bodies if this species is to be secured in its habitat.

Ex situ conservation
Plants are grown at Kirstenbosch in their pot collection of rare ericas and some are planted in the garden for display. A nursery in Caledon that specializes in growing fynbos also grows plants successfully. Nursery grown plants might ultimately be the only means of survival for this species.


References

  • GOLDBLATT, P.& MANNING, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town and Missouri Botanical Garden.
  • EMANOIL, M. (ed.). 1994. Encyclopaedia of endangered species: 1136. IUCN, The World Conservation Union, Detroit.
  • HILTON-TAYLOR, C. 1996. Threatened Ericaceae in southern Africa. Yearbook of the Heather Society. pages 7 - 16.
  • HILTON-TAYLOR, C. 1996. Red Data List of southern African plants. Strelitzia 4. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • SCHUMANN, D., KIRSTEN, G. & OLIVER, E.G.H. 1992. Ericas of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.
  • OLIVER,E.G.H. pers. comm.
  • HANEKOM, ADRIAAN (Caledon Fynbos Nursery) pers. comm.

Anthony Hitchcock
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
February 2003



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