Erica peziza Lodd.
Common names: woollysnow heath, velvet bell heath, white heath (Eng.); kapokkie (Afr.)
A beautiful fynbos shrub that turns snowy white when it flowers in spring.
An erect, densely floriferous, well-branched shrub, usually about 0.6–1 m tall, but it can reach up to 2 m in height. The branches are ascending or nearly erect. Leaves are dark green, linear, simple and whorled. It has masses of small, hairy, white, bell- to urn-shaped flowers, up to 5 mm long. The flowers are entirely covered in white woolly hairs and when in full flower, it appears that the bushes are covered in snow. It flowers in winter to spring (Aug. –Nov.).
Many very small seeds are produced in loculicidal capsules i.e. capsules that split open along the walls of the locules, which are chambers of the ovary.
According to the website http://redlist.sanbi.org, checked on 8 December 2015, the conservation status of Erica peziza is Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
This species is endemic to the Western Cape and occurs in the mountains of the Montagu, Robertson, Caledon, Riviersonderend and Swellendam Districts. It is a fairly common species in its range that can form dense populations. It is mostly found on moderate rocky slopes at relatively low altitudes, sometimes in partial shade on south-facing slopes, in well-drained, sandy soil derived from sandstone.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Erica peziza was first described by Conrad Loddiges, published in volume 3 of the Botanical cabinet, in 1819. The genus name Erica is from the Greek Ereike, the name for heath that was used by Pliny and Theophrastus. The origin of the name peziza is doubtful, but could refer to the resemblance of the flowers to the fruiting body of mushrooms of the genus Peziza.
The Afrikaans common name kapokkie means ‘the little one with kapok’, and kapok means snow. This is generally taken to mean that when in flower it appears as if snow covers the bush, or it could mean that each, small, hairy flower appears to be dusted in snow flakes or cotton-like kapok fibres.
The flowers are probably pollinated by insects.
Erica peziza has no medicinal uses. It is cultivated as a decorative garden and pot plant and can be used as cut flower, both as filler and as a specimen.
Growing Erica peziza
Grow Erica peziza in soil that is well drained, with an acidic pH of 5.5–6.5. It is well suited to rockeries, rocky slopes, retaining walls and raised beds. It is also suitable for containers. Water well, but carefully; it needs regular watering but it does not like to be permanently wet as it will get sick and die in waterlogged, soggy soil. It needs a sunny situation, where there is free circulation of air through its branches; it will not thrive in a humid situation. Once planted, leave its roots as undisturbed as possible. Mulch regularly with well-rotted compost, pine needles or bark chips, and feed where necessary with a diluted, organic or a slow-release fertilizer, such as 3:1:5 but take care not to overfertilize. Prune lightly to encourage branching.
Erica peziza can be propagated from cuttings and seed. Sow seed in late summer or autumn. Use a well-drained, slightly acidic, sandy medium such as equal parts of river sand and decomposed pine bark. Sow the seeds onto the surface of the sand. Keep lightly shaded and moist. Seed germinates in about six weeks. Pot them up when they are at least 10 mm tall and grow them on for at least another twelve months before they can be planted into the garden.
Take semi-hardwood heel cuttings in late summer to autumn or spring. Treat with a rooting hormone and place in a well-drained, well-aerated rooting medium in a mist unit with bottom heat of ± 24 °C. Pot the rooted cuttings in a well-drained, acidic soil medium and harden off in light shade for a month or two.
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape Plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri.
- Jackson, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South African plant genera . University of Cape Town.
- Powrie, F. 1998. Grow South African Plants. A gardener's companion to indigenous plants. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
- Schumann, D., Kirsten, G. & Oliver, E.G.H. 1992. Ericas of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg.
- Sheat, W.G. & Schofield, G. 1995 Complete gardening in southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
- Smith, C.A 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35.
- Hortipedia En.hortipedia.com/wiki/Erica_peziza, accessed 2 December 2015.
- iSpot southern Africa https://www.ispotnature.org/communities/southern-africa
- Masons Garden Centre http://masonsgardencentre.co.nz/hints-and-tips, accessed 2 Dec 2015.
- The Plant List http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/record/kew-2794105, accessed 8 Dec 2015.
Nomama Mei and Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring, Winter
Flower colour: White
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average