Erica ventricosa, with its exquisite flowers and dense,
compact habit, is one of the most attractive of the Erica species.
Its name is derived from the Latin ventricosus, referring
to the swollen or inflated shape of its flowers. This erica was
very popular in England as early as the nineteenth century where
nurserymen grew it extensively as a pot plant.
ventricosa forms a well-branched erect shrub between 0.5 and
1.0m in height, with numerous stout upright branches, densely clothed
with small, narrow, pointed, dark green, shiny, typically ericoid
leaves.It produces spectacular displays of pink flowers during summer.
They begin as deep, rose pink buds, in dense clusters at the tips
of the branches. As the buds elongate, the bases swell and change
to a delicate light pink colour, with the narrow tips still rose
pink. When open, the flower is an elegant urn-shape, tapering to
a narrow throat with spreading lobes which curl backwards to form
a star. To add to their beauty, they have the look of delicate porcelain,
in that they have a shiny, wax-like texture that also gives the
false impression that they are sticky. This tubular flower shape
is typical of those species pollinated by flies with a long proboscis.
The fly hovers in front of the flower and probes the tube for nectar.
In the process pollen is deposited by the anthers on the upper parts
of the proboscis and carried to the next flower.
ventricosa grows on mountain slopes between 300m and 1400m above
sea level. It is found mainly on the upper slopes in the Paarl,
Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Hottentots Holland Mountains, where
it grows on nutrient poor, well-drained acid soils with a pH ranging
from 5.5 to 6.5, and flowers during summer, from October to January.
These mountains receive considerable winter rainfall in places far
exceeding that of Kirstenbosch, which averages 1400mm per annum.
In summer these mountains are often blanketed by moisture laden
southeast cloud that cools the atmosphere and dampens the plants.
Growing Erica ventricosa
Erica ventricosa is easily cultivated, and is one of the
few ericas that has been grown successfully in the summer rainfall
areas of South Africa. It is an excellent pot subject, and a decorative
garden subject where it is shown to best effect when planted in
groups. It requires a sunny position, and well drained acidic soil
with an ideal pH ranging between 5.5 and 6.7. A potting medium consisting
of two parts acid river sand, two parts composted pine bark or well
rotted compost and one part loam is recommended. This species produces
numerous branches from its base, and regular pruning will enhance
its good growth form and increase its flower production. It is not
hardy to severe frost, but is unharmed by mild frost and should
be hardy to zone 10 (-1°C / 30°F). Gardeners looking for a hardy erica
suitable for pot culture cannot do better than try this lovely plant.
Weekly applications of organic seaweed-derived fertilizers have
proved adequate for good balanced growth and flowering. Better growth
may be achieved during the summer months by applying controlled
release fertilizers that release nutrients gradually over a period
of time. A small amount of 3.1.5 slow release fertilizer applied
during spring has given good results in trials in the nursery. Too
much nitrogenous fertilizer will, however, result in too much foliage
growth and possibly limit flowering.
Erica ventricosa is easily propagated from seed or cuttings.
Seed should be sown in autumn, in trays. A suitable sowing medium
consists of two parts acidic river sand: two parts composted pine
bark: one part loam. Seed is sown evenly over the surface of the
soil medium and lightly covered. Do not cover too deeply. Seed that
has been treated with the "Instant
Smoke Plus" seed primer show greatly improved germination.
Place the seed tray in a protected position, where the light conditions
are good and ventilation is free. It is best to water gently overhead
with a spray can to avoid washing the seed out of the tray. Seedlings
usually appear from four to six weeks and are very delicate in this
early stage. Water gently with a spray can and do not allow the
medium to dry out. One can also place a glass pane over the tray
and gradually remove it as the seedlings grow. Fungal problems can
be arrested by prompt treatment with a fungicide designated for
the control of damping-off. Seedlings may be planted into individual
pots or bags when they have grown to a height of at least 1-cm,
but only planted out into the garden when they are at least 10cm
Cuttings are normally taken in autumn using proper rooting facilities,
which are unfortunately not available to most amateur growers. These
include overhead misting and heating from below. Placing cuttings
in a container covered with plastic seldom works, as erica cuttings
require free air-circulation. Fresh actively growing thin shoots
taken as heel cuttings and treated with rooting hormone for semi-hardwood
cuttings give best results. Roots may develop after eight weeks
and are fine and delicate. Rooted cuttings must be hardened off
away from the mist unit for a few weeks before they are planted
The young plants, both seedlings and newly rooted cuttings, should
be kept moist, as they are more susceptible to drying out. Older
plants are watered every second or third day depending upon the
soil moisture content. Water well so that the water filters down
to the roots in garden situations or drains out of the bottom of
- Baker, H.A. and Oliver, E.G.H. 1967. Ericas in Southern Africa.
Purnell, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- Bolus, H.M.L. 1928. A First Book of South African Flowers. 2nd
ed. Juta and Company LTD. Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- Schumann, D (Dolf) & Kirsten, G (Gerard) 1992. Ericas of
South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg Cape Town.