Erica psittacina E.G.H.Oliv. & I.M.Oliv.
Common names: Hlabeni heath
Erica psittacina, discovered by chance in 2002 during an orchid field trip, is the most restricted Erica species in KwaZulu-Natal province.
Erica psittacina is a large, woody, bushy, erect, single-stemmed shrub that grows to a height of 1-1.5 m. The main branches are up to 400 mm long, sometimes topped with numerous secondary branches 100-160 mm long, with 1 or 2 tertiary branches 30-60 mm long. Stem with dense, short, simple hairs and spreading, stouter, longer hairs. Leaves are 4-nate (in groups of 4). Flowers are hairy, pink and urn-shaped. Flowers grow in 2-5 whorls, terminal on secondary branches, lower 1 or 2 whorls with internodes. Inflorescence of lower whorls racemose while upper whorls are umbel-like. Pedicel 4-6 mm long, with dense, fine simple hairs, red. Bract is leaf-like and on branch in lower whorls of inflorescence. Corolla is 4-lobed and bright pink. Ovary 4-locular, covered with simple short hairs with large nectaries at base. Fruit a dehiscent capsule; seeds ovoid, yellow-brown to brown.
It is a very distinct species among the 32 Erica species that occur in KwaZulu-Natal. Erica psittacina is closely related to Erica algida in that both have leaves in groups of 4. However, E. algida is widespread along the whole Drakensberg Range, is a multi-stemmed resprouter, and flowers in a single inflorescence arranged in one whorl.
The length of flowering time is unknown. However, Erica psittacina has been seen flowering in February.
This species is listed as Endangered in the 2009 Red List because only a single subpopulation of approximately 100 plants is known at present. This Erica is not currently conserved in any formally protected area. However, the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) programme's KwaZulu-Natal node will be continually monitoring this population, with the assistance of their volunteers.
It is not clear what the regeneration requirements are for Erica psittacina as the size of the plants suggests a great age, and they are probably very slow growing and recruit infrequently. The single-stemmed habit suggests a reseeding life history strategy, which would mean that this species is sensitive to too frequent fire. The surrounding vegetation appears to be very old, indicating that fires are generally excluded from the area. Like many Erica species, it requires periodic fire to recruit, and complete exclusion of fire may also be a potential threat.
Distribution and habitat
Erica psittacina occurs in a remarkably small area on Hlabeni Mountain, just outside Creighton, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. There it grows on a steep, rocky, south-facing slope in a long, narrow belt of dense, shrubby vegetation close to the margin of indigenous forest. The plants are mostly scattered, easily noted due to their abundant pink flowers contrasting against otherwise drab vegetation.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The plants were discovered in 2002 while systematists were sampling orchids on the mountain. It was through the assistance of a local conservationist and parrot enthusiast that the team had visited the mountain. Also, the indigenous forest above which the Erica grows is inhabited by a remnant population of Cape parrots.
The epithet psittacinus honours the very distinguished and rare inhabitant of the Hlabeni mountain, the Cape parrot, Poicephalus robustus: psittacinus means belonging to, possession of, the parrot.
Honey bees were seen during a CREW field trip. A slight scent was noticeable from the fresh flowers in the wild. It is, however, not possible to see whether the bees came for nectar or just pollen.
There are neither uses nor cultural aspects documented for Erica psittacina.
Growing Erica psittacina
It is likely that the species may be propagated by means of cuttings.
- Oliver, E.G.H. & Oliver I.M. 2004. Two new species of Erica (Ericaceae); one from Western Cape and one from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Bothalia 34.1: 13-15.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds). 2009. Red List of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Intitute, Pretoria.
Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers
(CREW) Programme: KZN node
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal
Flowering season: Late Summer
Flower colour: Pink
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Challenging