Erica denticulata L.
Common names: scented heath (Eng.); lekkerruikheide (Afr.)
Erica denticulata stands out in a family of over 700 species as being one of the few that have scented flowers. The scent is reminiscent of carnations and this Erica is commonly known as the scented heath.
Erica denticulata is an evergreen shrublet, which grows up to 0.45-0.5 m. It has slender branches and has a spreading or upright habit. This species has small, narrow leaves closely arranged in whorls up the stem.
The flowers are borne in clusters along the branches, range from cream-coloured to yellow and pink, are urn-shaped and slightly inflated and have a waxy feel to them. The flowers may be confused with those of E. daphniflora (14 mm), but those of E. denticulat a (6-8 mm) are shorter, have tooth-like projections on the sepals and they are distinctly fragrant. Flowering time: from spring to mid-summer (August to January).
Distribution and habitat
Seventy-six species of Erica occur in Europe. The greatest concentration of ericas are found in the Cape Floristic Kingdom. The natural distribution of E. denticulata is from the northwestern to the southwestern parts of the Western Cape. It grows in a broad sweep from Piketberg to the Riviersonderend Mountains, at low altitudes as well as on the upper slopes where the plant may be covered in snow for part of the year.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Ericas were first referred to in the publication Breynius Centura in 1678. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, first referred to them as ericas in 1753. The name Erica is derived from the Greek eieike, meaning to break, because certain heath species were used in an infusion to break up kidney stones. The species name is derived from the Latin denticulatus, referring to the tooth-like projections on the sepals.
Certain species of bees, wasps and flies with a proboscis (specialized, elongated, sucking mouthparts) pollinate Erica denticulata. Its characteristic fine leaves are covered with fine hairs to reduce water loss. A second water-saving adaptation is that the leaves are rolled to expose the least amount of leaf surface to the sun.
Erica denticulata has no known medicinal or cultural uses. It is, however, a beautiful and relatively hardy species suitable for growing in pots and rockeries.
Growing Erica denticulata
It does well in full sun, in sandy, acidic soils and will benefit from the addition of a layer of mulch. Good companion plants are Erica mammosa, Elegia capensis, Leucospermum glabram, Leucodendron salicifolium, Chondropetalum tectorum and Agathosma ovata.
Watch out for mite damage. Try to use eco-friendly remedies for this or a contact pesticide.
Erica denticulate may be propagated from seed or cuttings. Cuttings have to be rooted in specialized facilities on a heated bench and with mist spray. The season to take cuttings is in autumn (March to May). Take semi-hardwood tip or heel cuttings and place in a mix of 50% milled bark and 50% polystyrene. A rooting hormone and bottom heat (if available) will help. Fresh seed can also be sown in autumn. Smoke treatment is used to stimulate germination. Seeds will thrive under cover with good light conditions, good air circulation and regular watering with a fine rose spray.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Clay
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
Flower colour: Pink, Cream
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average