Erica urna-viridis is a very unusual erica
as it produces green sticky flowers. This is a very unusual colour
in the Cape Flora. It derives its name from the Latin, urna,
an urn, and viridis (green) referring to the shape and
colour of the flowers.
erica is endemic to the central Cape Peninsula and is often found
in large and scattered colonies on Steenberg plateau across to
the high ridges above Kalk Bay. It is classified as a rare plant
in the Red Data book because it is restricted to a relatively
small section of the Peninsula mountain chain.
The plants are fairly tall reaching a height of
1m and are easily recognized, as they grow taller than the surrounding
vegetation. They characteristically produce long, thin and sturdy
woody stems that are bare with small light green leaves closely
arranged around the stems near the ends of the branches.
The flowers are presented in-groups of three or
four at or near the tips of the branches and are sticky and green.
The main flowering period extends from December to July, although
flowers may also be found at other times of the year. This erica
regenerates from seed after fire and does not have the ability
The sticky flowers are believed to serve as a protection
against insects intent on robbing the flower of nectar by boring
holes in the side of the corolla. The inflated flower narrows
at the mouth and nectar is thought to be collected by hovering
insects using their long proboscis. The process results in pollination
through the transfer of pollen from flower to flower.
These assumptions need further investigation, as
approximately 15% of the flowers were found on Steenberg with
holes bored in the sides of the corolla. (pers. observation) Insects
robbing the flower of nectar presumably cause the damage, as there
is little evidence of damage to the ovary. Malachite sunbirds
were seen perching on the strong wiry stems and feeding from the
flowers. This is contrary to the principles of pollination suggested
by Rebelo, et al. They suggest that the urn shape of the E.
urna-viridis flower would attract insect pollinators. It is
probable that insects are also involved in pollination as a number
were found crawling around inside the flowers.
Insect damage to the flowers. Photo:
interesting and unusual phenomenon was the presence of witch's
broom on a number of plants. Witch's broom is commonly found on
certain proteas, but not normally associated with ericas. The
cause is not known, although it is believed that a mite insect
is associated with this disease, which maifests itself in a bushy
proliferation of malformed shoots and leaves. It was found on
individual branches of some plants on Steenberg and appeared not
to affect the rest of the plant.
Growing Erica urna-viridis
This species is relatively hardy and will tolerate
a range of Mediterranean conditions provided the soil is well
drained, acidic and the plant is growing in a sunny position.
It must be staked if allowed to grow to its natural tall size.
Erica urna-viridis grows in sandy, acidic
soils derived from quartsitic rock. It is most at home on stony
soils chiefly on south and west facing slopes and ridges where
the plants are exposed to cool summer winds. The ideal pH is between
5.5 and 6.7.
tall weedy growth habit is easily overcome by regularly pinching
out the growth tips. This practice not only improves the shape
of the plant, but also results in it living longer. The approximate
life expectancy ranges from 7 to 12 years and sometimes longer.
A suitable growing medium includes two parts acid, river sand,
two parts composted pine bark or needles and one part loam.
There are no major pest or fungal problems to contend
within the garden.
Weekly applications of organic seaweed derived fertilizers
has proved a safe method of feeding. Better growth may be achieved
by applying controlled release fertilizers. Trials using small
amounts of the slow release granular fertilizer 3:1:5 have given
very positive results. Care must however be taken not to feed
too much, which will result in too rapid growth for the roots
to support. Applications of seaweed based organic fertiliser have
proved very useful in overcoming the effects of stress from excessive
heat or root disturbance.
This plant is normally grown from cuttings as separating
the seed from the sticky flowers is not easy. Cuttings are taken
in autumn or spring and require bottom heat and overhead misting
or fogging. Fresh, actively growing, shoot tips or heel cuttings
root best. Cuttings are rooted in a medium consisting of equal
parts decomposed milled pine bark and polystyrene pellets for
drainage. Rooting is enhanced by the application of a rooting
hormone suitable of semi-hardwood cuttings. Rooting may take from
six to ten weeks. The roots are very delicate and rooted cuttings
should therefore be planted out with great care.
If seed is collected it should be sown in autumn
and subjected to the smoke treatment used to stimulate germination
in many fynbos plants. The young seedlings should be protected
from heavy rain, watering and direct sunshine. Seedlings will
thrive under a covered area if provided with good light, air circulation
and regular gentle watering. The seed should germinate within
four to six weeks. The germination rate deteriorates as the seed
Baker, H.A. and Oliver, E.G.H. 1967. Ericas
in Southern Africa. Purnell, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Goldblatt, Peter and Manning, John. 2000.
Cape Plants A conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa.
Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute.
Hilton-Taylor, Craig. 1996. Red Data List
of Southern African Plants. Strelitzia 4 National Botanical
Oliver, Inga & Ted. 2000. Field Guide
to the Ericas of the Cape Peninsula. Published by the Protea
Atlas Project, NBI, Cape Town.
Rebelo, A.G., Siegfried, W.R. and Oliver,
E.G.H. Pollination syndromes of Erica species in the south-western
Cape. S. Afr.J. Bot., 1985, 51(4).
Schumann, D (Dolf) & Kirsten, G (Gerard)
1992. Ericas of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg Cape