See update on this plant dated February 2013
How could a plant as hardy and strikingly beautiful as Erica
verticillata have been allowed to reach the precipice of extinction?
Fortunately the story of Erica verticillata is a heartening
tale of successful ex situ conservation. It has managed to
claw its way back to become one of the most popular ericas in cultivation.
This species occurred naturally on the Cape flats of the Cape Peninsula.
It preferred damp sandy soils such as those found around Wynberg,
Kenilworth and Zeekoeivlei where agriculture and urban development
wiped out its natural populations.
Specimens of this erica were last collected from habitat during
the late nineteenth and first years of the twentieth century. The
latest herbarium record is 1943, from plants grown at Kirstenbosch.
We may therefore assume that Erica verticillata became extinct
in the wild at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Then during the 1980's Deon Kotze, erica horticulturist at Kirstenbosch,
began a concerted search amongst the remnants of lowland fynbos
on the Peninsula. His research included making photocopies of herbarium
sheets. The Kirstenbosch scholar in 1984, David von Well, recognised
the plant from these sheets as being the same as an erica growing
at Protea Park in Pretoria. Samples were collected and sent to Ted
Oliver at the Compton Herbarium who confirmed it to be Erica
verticillata. In the same year another plant was recognised
at Kew and material of both brought into cultivation at Kirstenbosch.
A few years later Adonis Adonis, a foreman at Kirstenbosch, found
a mature plant growing in a clearing in the forest behind the Braille
Trail. All these clones have been successfully propagated from cuttings
and sold from the Kirstenbosch Garden Shop and at the Plant Fair.
Ted Oliver is in the process of getting material of another specimen
that has been grown in one of the gardens of Europe since the mid
Erica verticillata is a handsome, strong growing, hardy
shrub reaching a height of 1.5m tall. Mauve-pink tubular flowers
are produced near the tips of the sturdy branches. These are arranged
in neat stepped whorls that form attractive flower heads during
late summer to autumn. The flowers are very showy and attract sunbirds.
Growing Erica verticillata
Erica verticillata is one of the easiest ericas to grow.
Plants are reproduced from cuttings at Kirstenbosch to keep the
three forms separate. The plants do not readily produce seed in
the gardens or at Rondevlei where they were reintroduced a few years
Plants are rooted from fresh tip or heel cuttings taken in autumn.
They are easily rooted in a medium consisting of equal parts of
6mm milled pine bark and polystyrene chips under mist and on heated
benches. Rooting hormones are applied for semi-hardwood cuttings.
Rooted cuttings are planted and established in a well-drained soil
mix developed at Kirstenbosch for fynbos plants. The mixture consists
of equal parts composted pine bark or pine needles, acidic sand
and about 20% loam (top soil). Any well-decomposed compost will
be suitable so long as it has been naturally composted with a minimum
of additives such as manure. Fresh semi-decomposed compost is not
Pruning will increase branching and the number of flower bearing
stems. Plants should be pruned regularly from an early stage to
produce a lovely full shape. Be sure to prune after flowering in
order not to cut away new buds.
Ericas should be regularly fed with organic liquid fertilizers
(Seagro and Kelpac) or control release fertilizers
such as Osmocote or Horticote. Control release fertilisers
should be applied sparingly (about 10 granules per plant) to balance
growth of foliage versus flower production.
Erica verticillata performs best when planted in a well-ventilated
warm sunny position. It likes seasonally moist sandy soils, but
will grow well in average garden conditions provided the soils are
acidic. The best time to plant is in autumn or during the winter
although they may be planted at other times of the year if regularly
watered. Place in a pre prepared hole with as little disturbance
to the root zone as possible. Fill in with the surrounding soil
and add pine compost if available. Leave a basin around the plant
to help collect water. Mulching is strongly recommended as it keeps
the soil surface cool and damp and reduces weed growth.
Plants should be well watered after planting and then every two
to three days unless good rainfalls occur. Deep watering encourages
the roots to penetrate deeper into the soil, which helps the plant
survive the hot dry weather in summer.
Adamson, R.S. and Salter, T.M., 1950. Flora of the Cape Peninsula,
Juta & Co., Ltd., Cape Town and Johannesburg
Goldblatt, Peter and Manning, John, 2000. Cape Plants A Conspectus
of the Cape Flora of South Africa, published jointly by National
Botanical Institute and Missouri Botanical Garden
Oliver, I & E.G.H., 2000. Field Guide to the Ericas of the
Cape Peninsula, publ. by Protea Atlas Project, National Botanical
Institute, Cape Town
Schumann, Dolf, Kirsten, Gerard and Oliver, E.G.H., 1992. Ericas
of South Africa, Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town
Flora Capensis Vol.IV Sect.I 1909. Lovell Reeve, London
E.G.H. Oliver - personal communication
Mr Dalton Gibbs - Reserve Manager, Rondevlei - personal communication