Erica glandulosa subsp. breviflora
Erica glandulosa Thunb. subsp. breviflora (Bolus) E.G.H.Oliv. & I.M.Oliv.
Common names: Humansdorp glandulous heath
This subspecies is a short-flowered form of the very popular and reliable Erica glandulosa subsp. glandulosa and is new to horticulture. It is in itself very showy and worthy of a place in South African gardens.
Erica glandulosa subsp. breviflora is a sturdy, medium-sized, multi-stemmed, bushy shrub, growing up to 1 m tall. The leaves are narrowly sulcate (marked with parallel grooves). The plant and flowers are covered with tiny glandular hairs, which give it a mildly sticky feel. The leaves are grouped on short side branches on sturdy stems, giving the shrub an overall, thickly leafy appearance.
The flowers are attractive, tubular, up to 10 mm long and glandular hairy. They are shiny and semi-translucent, normally white and sometimes tinged with pink.
Flowering time is not recorded, but expected to be mainly from autumn to spring (April-September), the same period as Erica glandulosa subsp. glandulosa.
An extremely localized taxon (EOO 25 km²), known from two locations and declining due to habitat loss to expanding agriculture and competition from invasive alien plants. It is listed as Endangered (EN) in the Red List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat
Erica glandulosa subsp. breviflora is extremely localized, it occurs on a farm northwest of Humansdorp.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Erica glandulosa subsp. breviflora gets its name from the Latin glandulosus, meaning ‘glandular’ or ‘full of glands’, because it is covered with thousands of tiny glandular hairs and the subspecific epithet breviflora, meaning ‘short-flowered’, refers to the short, abbreviated flower tube.
Erica glandulosa subsp. breviflora occurs on sandy flats in Kouga Grassy Sandstone Fynbos. It grows in exposed, windy conditions on lower hill slopes in full sunlight. It is found in acidic sands derived from quartzitic rock and is adapted to poor, well-drained soils. It is a hardy species that survives long, hot summers. It appears to be a re-sprouting species, meaning that it is adapted to fire by retaining a woody stem at the base of the plant and re-sprouts after fire. It also produces seed which germinates easily under nursery conditions. Its tubular flowers attract sunbirds that seek its nectar, and in dipping into the flower tube, disturb the anthers which deposit pollen onto the beak. Plants are pollinated as the birds move from flower to flower.
Erica glandulosa subsp. breviflora is a showy species. It is recommended as a strong-growing, reliable garden plant and is easy to maintain in average Mediterranean conditions, if soils are acidic. It will also grow well as a large pot plant. This species is ideal for warm, sunny gardens and is quite salt-tolerant and, therefore, a good plant for a coastal garden, providing that the soils are acidic to neutral.
Growing Erica glandulosa subsp. breviflora
This Erica is easily grown from fresh seed, which is best sown in late summer or autumn. Germination is greatly enhanced by the application of smoke which mimics the conditions in nature. Seed is sown onto a well-drained, slightly acidic growing medium consisting of a combination of river sand and well-decomposed pine needle compost or pine bark in roughly equal proportions. Seed germinates in about 6 weeks, emerging as tiny, delicate plantlets that must be lightly watered with a watering can. Let the seedlings grow to about 10 mm tall before pricking them out into small individual pots. Young seedlings are encouraged to grow by feeding them every week with a diluted organic fertilizer. Seedlings grow slowly and will only be big enough after twelve months, when they may be planted into the garden. It is advisable to plant out during the cooler autumn or early winter months to allow the plants to establish before the onset of summer.
It is also easily rooted from cuttings, preferably in autumn or spring, in multi-trays on heated benches under mist spray. Select small tip or heel cuttings about 20–30 mm long, taking thin wood from the previous season’s growth. Heel cuttings are preferred where a short side shoot is removed from the stem. The base of the cutting is treated with a rooting hormone for semi-hardwood cuttings, which are then placed into a rooting medium of 50:50 fine-milled bark and polystyrene pellets.
In the garden it will require a good watering once a week during summer months. This species should provide a good show for at least 10 years and probably many more after that.
Erica glandulosa subsp. breviflora can also be grown in a large container, providing that the correct, well-draining growing medium is provided. Fynbos planting medium is made up of a combination of equal parts composted pine bark or pine needles and river sand. A little (20%) loam may also be added. It is a woody species, so regular pruning is recommended to keep the plants well branched and compact. Plants that are pruned are more presentable, last longer and produce more flowers.
Erica plants are adapted to living in poor soils, but, for best results, should be regularly fed with diluted organic liquid or small amounts of organic pellet fertilizers that are low in phosphorus.
- Manning, J. & Goldblatt, P. 2012. Plants of the Greater Cape Floristic Region 1: the Core Cape Flora. Strelitzia 29. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Oliver, E.G.H. & Oliver, I.M. 2005. The genus Erica (Ericaceae) in southern Africa: taxonomic notes 1. Bothalia 32: 46.
- Schumann, D., Kirsten, G. & Oliver, E.G.H. 1992. Ericas of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg.
- Turner, R.C., Manyama, P.A. & von Staden, L. 2012. Erica glandulosa Thunb. subsp. breviflora (Bolus) E.G.H.Oliv. & I.M.Oliv. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2018/03/13
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Autumn, Winter
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White, Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy