Erica nevillei L.Bolus
Common names: red rock-heath (Eng.); klouterplant (Afr.)
The tubular, bright red flowers of Erica nevillei are breathtaking and the low-growing, sprawling habit of this Cape Peninsula endemic will fascinate anyone with a keen eye intrigued by fantastic plants adapted to thrive where most others would perish.
Erica nevillei is a low-growing, semi-sprawling, woody shrub attaining a spread of 1 m and an average height of 40 mm.
Flowering from January to May, Erica nevillei's bright red tubular flowers are 20-24 mm long, sticky and are found in dense spike-like heads at the end of the main branches. The bracts and sepals are red-green, small and dotted with glands. The corolla is slightly lens-shaped and has 8 grooves at the base, giving it a nipped-in appearance. Anthers protrude slightly and have tiny appendages on the filaments below the anther. The anther cells are slightly parted.
The ericoid leaves occur in dense whorls round the branches in groups of 4-6. Erica nevillei is often confused with Erica quadrisulcata but its flowers are red, the anthers exserted and the inflorescence is not an umbel. It is also easily confused with Erica abietina but its corolla tube is nipped-in at the base and the inflorescence is terminal.
Erica nevillei naked flower Erica nevillei flowers showing anthers
According to the Red List of South African Plants (Raimondo et al. 2009) E. nevillei is listed as Rare (R). It is a range-restricted habitat specialist found nowhere else in the world except on rocky slopes of the Cape Peninsula.
Distribution and habitat
Erica nevillei is endemic to the Peninsula growing only on the rocky cliffs near Noordhoek, Chapman's Peak and Constantiaberg.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
" Nevillei" is derived from the name of the botanist who discovered the plant, Neville Pillans (1883-1964). He worked for the Bolus Herbarium, which was established in 1865 and is the oldest functioning herbarium in South Africa. Erica nevillei was Pillans' 4124th contribution to the herbarium.
This erica regenerates after fire by resprouting. As a result it can also be hard pruned in the garden once established.
Growing Erica nevillei
Simply because they're absolutely stunning, or perhaps to help preserve some of the many species threatened with extinction, you have decided to grow some ericas. Growing ericas is not difficult in the winter rainfall region because the natural climate and the soils of this area allow for a great variety of species to be grown successfully. Of the 760 species of Erica, 50 have good garden potential but it is still up to you to carefully consider the growing requirements of each species and the particular conditions present in your garden. In the summer rainfall region the rule of thumb is to ensure that the species you `have your eyes on' is known to be suitable for the conditions ruling there. Ericas grow well in pots, so, when a sunny spot with good air circulation and no cold winds is difficult to find, plant them in an attractive container and move it around as conditions change.
Like all erica species Erica nevillei may be grown from seed or cuttings, however, cuttings are easier and faster to grow and produce plants that are far more robust. Plants grown from cuttings can also be transplanted within six months, as opposed to a year for seed-grown plants, and they will flower a year earlier (Schumann et al. 1992). Considering the rarity of this species, however, seeds are likely to be your only option for propagation--regard it as a challenge!
Seed can be purchased from a number of sources, one of which is Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. If you already have a plant, you should harvest seed just as the flowers start to fall naturally. The old flowers should be dried and then rubbed through a sieve. Sow seed between March and May in a seed tray not less than 100 mm deep. Seed may be soaked in a commercial smoke seed primer for 24 hours before sowing and then dried off. The seed tray, evenly filled with the well-drained acidic medium, should be well watered with a fine rose prior to sowing. Sow seed evenly and cover with a fine layer of the sieved growing medium. Water gently with a fine rose and keep out of direct sunlight and rain in an area with good air circulation. Germination occurs within 1-2 months. When the seedlings are about 10 mm tall place the tray under light shade conditions until October-December. When 20-50 mm tall, prick out and plant in a fynbos potting medium (seven parts sand and three parts sifted humus). Place in light shade and water well. Once established, shading is not required.
Take 40-50 mm cuttings from semi-hard wood two months after flowering from healthy mature plants. Heel and stem cuttings work best. Remove the leaves from the lower 1/3 of the cutting, dip into a rooting hormone and place into a tray filled with 50% peat, or crushed pine bark, and 50% polystyrene. Bottom heating between 22-24°C is applied, and once cuttings are rooted they are potted up into ½ liter plastic bags. Young cuttings must be watered well and kept under shade for a month, after which they are placed into full sun. After 3-4 months plant out.
Soil is a sensitive issue. The potting medium should be well drained and acidic, containing no manure, and have low levels of phosphate. A well-drained sandy loam with a pH between 5 and 5.5, containing about 50% humus is ideal (Brown et al. 2006). Ericas grow better when planted close together with other fynbos plants to form dense stands that cover the ground. They grow particularly well in rockeries or sloping ground but level areas will work as well. Before planting dig in some well rotted pine bark.
- Baker, H.A. & Oliver, E.G.H. 1967. Ericas in Southern Africa. Purnell & Sons, Cape Town.
- Brown, N.A.C. & Duncan, G.D. 2006. Grow fynbos plants. Kirstenbosch Gardening Series. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town.
- Hyam, R. & Pankhurst, R. 1995. Plants and their names. Oxford University Press, New York
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of South African plant genera. University of Cape Town Printing Department.
- Oliver, T. (E.G.H.) & Oliver, I. 2000. Ericas of the Cape Peninsula. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- Schumann, D., Kirsten, G. & Oliver, E.G.H. 1992. Ericas of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Late Summer
Flower colour: Red
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy