Erica baueri subsp. baueri
Erica baueri Andrews subsp. baueri
Common names: bridal heath, Albertinia heath (Eng.); witheide (Afr.)
Erica baueri subsp. baueri is one of the most popular and widely cultivated of the South African species. It is one of the few ericas that regularly appear in popular South African plant books or articles. This may be attributed to its showy flowers and that it is fairly hardy and long lived in cultivation.
Bridal heath is a tall species reaching a height up to 1.5 m. It presents a sparse, upright woody growth habit when not pruned. The leaves are small and distinctively grey-green, which makes this species easy to recognize even when not in flower. The flowers are tubular in shape and grouped in attractive clusters near the ends of the branches. They may be white or pink or a combination of the two colours. Flowers may be produced at any time of the year. The reduced leaf size and grey texture of the leaves help this plant survive in an area of relatively low rainfall and where they are subjected to the desiccating effects of persistent, strong summer wind. Erica baueri subsp.baueri may therefore be classified as a waterwise plant.
It is likely that a combination of farming activities and field harvesting practices of thatch has resulted in its scarcity and classification in the Red Data book as Vulnerable to extinction.
The commercial harvesting of thatch may be a threat to Erica baueri subsp. baueri. Thatch plants are encouraged to grow in a number of ways. Areas are burnt or ploughed to clear them of other, especially woody, plants. Thatch plants colonize the disturbed land forming dense stands that are easy and more economic to harvest. Another method is to brush-cut the vegetation around the thatch plants creating a dense mono-stand of these plants.
Distribution and habitat
A threatened plant in nature This erica is confined to certain limited areas of the Riversdale and Albertinia districts between the Langeberg and the sea and is becoming increasingly scarce. Within this area it is found growing on sandy flats amongst the tall thatching grass, Thamnochortus insignis.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Interest in South African ericas developed in England during the early days of botanical exploration at the Cape. Specimens and seed were sent back and grown at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and by enthusiasts. The interest in ericas accelerated after the arrival of two famous collectors, Carl Thunberg and Francis Masson, in 1772. They collected many new species and sent them back to England for cultivation. Ericas also became favourite subjects for botanical artists resulting in several important works on the genus. In one of these, H.C. Andrews's Heathery, published in 1805, Andrews depicted Erica bauera for the first time. He named it after his fellow artist at Kew, Francis Bauer (1758 - 1810) who was botanical artist to King George III. Erica baueri was also depicted in Flowering Plants of Africa in 1946.
Growing Erica baueri subsp. baueri
This erica grows in nature in deep, well-drained, sandy acid soils. It is nevertheless most adaptable and will grow in a range of soil types. The heavier the soil (more clay content) the less water required. The important factor is that the soil medium must be allowed to drain between watering. This can be a problem in summer rainfall areas where large amounts of water fall in a short space of time.
The ideal pH is between 5.5 and 6.7. Soils made up from quartzite or sandstone is ideal and those derived from dolerite or granite are also suitable. A medium consisting of two parts acid river sand, two parts composted pine bark and one part loam is used to make up our potting mixture.
Weekly application of organic seaweed derived fertilizers has proved a safe method of feeding. Better growth may be achieved by applying controlled release fertilizers such as osmocote or horticote, but be careful not to apply too many granules per plant. Twenty to thirty granules applied per plant each autumn or spring is recommended. Kelpac stimulates strong root development and helps the plant overcome stress such as excessive heat or limited root disturbance.
Bridal heath is easily grown from seed, which should be sown in autumn. Treatment with smoke or smoke extract greatly enhances germination. The seedlings take about six to ten weeks to germinate and are delicate in their early stages. It is important not to sow too thickly as seedlings growing too close together and over watering may result in damping off. The young seedlings should be protected from heavy rainfall and direct sunlight by placing the seed trays under cover while providing good light and aeration. The seedlings should be watered gently to avoid washing them out of the tray or bending their delicate stems. Allow the young plants to reach a height of about 1cm before planting out into individual bags. Grow the plants up to at least 10cm before planting out in autumn or winter.
Propagation from cuttings is more difficult and should be done with suitable facilities such as bottom heat and overhead misting or fogging. Cuttings should preferably be taken in autumn, but may also be rooted in spring. Fresh actively growing thin side shoots taken as heel cuttings yield the best results. A rooting hormone for semi hardwood cuttings applied to the cut surface or heel results in quicker and better rooting. Rooting may take from eight to sixteen weeks or sometimes longer. The roots are very delicate and rooted cuttings should be planted out with great care.
In the Garden
This is a hardy species suitable for most gardens in South Africa where the humidity is not too high. It grows well in summer rainfall areas that receive mild frost as long as it is watered through the winter. Plants also do well under relatively harsh windy conditions at the coast.
The ideal place to plant is where there is good drainage in flat garden beds, on slopes or in rockeries. Although not having the ideal growth habit, it may be planted in pots as long as it is regularly pruned to retain good shape. Pruning will also increase flower production, producing splendid displays. The flowers will attract bird pollinators to the garden. This erica is a pleasing addition when used in flower arrangements.
- Andrews, H.C. 1854. The Heathery 6 vols., London.
- Baker, H.A. and Oliver, E.G.H. 1967. Ericas in Southern Africa. Purnell, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
- Batton, Auriol. 1986. Flowers of Southern Africa. Fransden Publishers.
- Guthrie, F. and Bolus, H. 1905 'Erica' In Thistleton-Dyer's Flora Capensis 4: Part 1:2-309.
- Hilton-Taylor, Craig, 1996. Red Data List of Southern African Plants. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Schumann,D (Dolf) & Kirsten,G (Gerard) 1992. Ericas of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg Cape Town.
- Johann Liebenberg of Liebenwerda Wholesale Nursery (personal communication).
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring, Winter, Sporadic/All year
Flower colour: White, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy