This is one of a number of erica species that are threatened by
urban expansion and farming practices.
patersonii grows in wet or marshy, reed-covered flats along
the Western Cape coastal plain and on the mountains near Stanford.
Its distribution extends from Cape Point on the Cape Peninsula,
Betty's Bay, Kleinmond as far as the Klein Rivier Mountains near
Stanford. It is also recorded from Hermanus, but this habitat has
all but been swallowed up by expansion of the town. The Betty's
Bay and Kleinmond populations are becoming severely depleted by
Erica patersonii is an erect, sparsely branched shrub growing
up to 1 m tall. The branches are densely covered with tufts of dark
green, needle-like leaves. The bright, golden yellow, waxy, tubular
flowers are arranged in closely packed spikes on the middle to upper
section of the stem. The flowering stem resembles corn on the cob,
which gives it its common name, mielie heath. Branching occurs mainly
at the base of the stem and is woody and often bare.
Erica patersonii is named in honour of Lieutenant William
Paterson (1755-1810) who made four collecting journeys into South
Africa. He was sent by Sir Joseph Banks to make observations on
the natural history of the land.
Growing Erica patersonii
in nature this species grows in marshy, peaty soils, it grows well
in average garden conditions. Its basic needs are acidic sandy or
loamy soils and a well-ventilated, sunny position. It will also
do well if planted in moist positions in the garden.
It is important that all ericas are protected from root disturbance.
Turning the soil near the base of the plant should be avoided. Remove
weeds when they are small or cut them down so that the soil is not
lifted where erica roots occur. This is true for fynbos plants in
Mulch around the plant with well-rotted compost, pine needles or
leaves. Mulching keeps the soil surface cool and moist and reduces
weed growth. Nutrients filter down from the mulch to the plant in
regular small amounts similar to what happens in nature.
It is important to feed ericas with organic fertilizers on a regular
basis for good results. If Erica patersonii is left unpruned
it will either produce one or a few erect stems. Pruning when the
plant is young will result in increased branching and therefore
a better specimen plant. Plant erect growing species such as
E. patersonii with small restios (Cape reeds) to produce a natural
Erica patersonii has been successfully grown in the summer
rainfall areas near Johannesburg and Pretoria where it survives
frost remarkably well. This is surprising for a species that is
restricted in nature to the relatively mild climate on the coastal
plains near the sea. It is, however, important to protect the young
plants from frost. Please be sure to water the plants in winter
when these regions are dry.
A number of erica species, including Erica patersonii, show
symptoms of browning or dieback at their tips. This is a disturbing
phenomenon, which if not attended to will spread to other plants
and affect the quality of the plant and its ability to produce good
flower displays. This problem was thought to be a fungal infection,
but is in fact caused by microscopic mites with the possibility
of a secondary fungal infection. The infection should be recognized
early before too much damage is done and treated with an insecticide
for controlling mite infections. Please consult your local nursery.
Erica patersonii is best grown from seed that is pre-treated
with smoke. The seed is sown and treated with smoke prior to watering
the seed trays. The seedlings take about six to ten weeks to germinate
and are susceptible to disturbance by heavy watering or to drying
out in the early stages. Young seedlings should be protected from
heavy rain and direct sunlight by placing the seed trays in a covered
area where they get good light and aeration. Sowing too thickly
often results in the development of fungal diseases such as damping
off. Regularly applying a fungicide listed for treating such a pathogen
will control this problem. Allow seedlings to reach a height of
10 mm before planting out into individual plant containers. Grow
plants up to at least 100 mm before planting out into the garden.
Propagation from cuttings is difficult because this erica produces
very few suitable side shoots. Regular pruning will help, but propagation
from seed is preferred.
In situ conservation
Conservation in the natural habitat is always better than trying
to keep collections of plants in pots or garden displays in Botanical
Gardens or private collections.
Erica patersonii is under considerable pressure in its natural
habitat because coastal lowlands are prime areas for housing developments.
It was recorded from the coastal flats at Hermanus over 100 years
ago, but is no longer found there because the area is built up.
It is found in patches in the Betty's Bay and Kleinmond area, but
building operations are continually reducing its habitat.
The remaining viable populations are at Cape Point and in the mountains
near Stanford. The Cape Peninsula populations at Cape Point were
severely reduced in the past by ruthless picking. The relatively
secure area within the Peninsula National Park may become its last
locality if indiscriminate development continues.
- Andrews, H.C. 1854. The Heathery, 6 vols. London.
- Baker, H.A. & Oliver, E.G.H. 1967. Ericas in southern
Africa. Purnell, Cape town & Johannesburg.
- Hilton-Taylor, C. 1996. Red Data List of southern African plants.
Strelitzia 4. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Schumann, D. (Dolf) & Kirsten, G. (Gerard). 1992. Ericas
of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg, Cape Town.