Erica sparsa var. sparsa
Erica sparsa Lodd. var. sparsa
Common names: pink-smoke heath, ker-ker
Erica sparsa is a free-flowering, relatively easy-to-grow, fynbos shrub that produces masses of small flowers in late summer, autumn and winter, that turn the whole bush pink.
Erica sparsa is an erect shrub about 1 m tall. It has many upward-pointing (ascending) branches that are covered in short, ash-grey hairs. Leaves are small and needle-like (linear) and the edges are rolled back until they almost meet under the leaf (sulcate), although this is difficult to see with the naked eye, because they are so small.
It produces masses of small, pale rosy pink to white flowers from late summer to early spring (February to August). They are densely crowded on short branchlets almost completely obscuring the leaves. The calyx looks similar to the corolla and the base of the sepals are fused. The corolla is broadly cup shaped, about 1 mm long, with an open mouth. The style protrudes well beyond the mouth of the corolla and the stigma is cone- to cup-shaped. The anthers are dark purple and do not protrude from the flower, although they can be seen at the mouth.
There are two varieties recognized: Erica sparsa Lodd. var. sparsa and E. sparsa var. glanduloso-pedicellata Dulfer. The latter variety differs from the typical in having glandular hairy pedicels, a calyx that is finely wrinkled and a stigma that is distinctly pin-headed (capitate).
Erica sparsa is not threatened and is classified as LC (Least Concern) according to the Red Data List.
Distribution and habitat
Erica sparsa occurs on the coastal flats and lower slopes from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Albany District in the Eastern Cape and is common in the George and Knysna areas where it forms dense colonies.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Erica gets its name from ereiko, meaning ‘to break’, either because of the ability of the plant to break up bladder stones or more probably because the stems are brittle and break easily. The species name sparsa is from Latin, and means ‘scattered’ or ‘spotted’, but what characteristic of the species it is referring to, is not known.
The common name ker-ker is mimicking the sound made when walking through and brushing past the plants, or the grating sound made by the wheels of a cart driving over the plants. Pink-smoke heath refers to the way the flowers cover the upward-pointing flowering branches, making them look like plumes of pink smoke rising up.
Erica sparsa is most likely pollinated by insects, such as bees. The flowers are visited by honey bees at Kirstenbosch.
Fynbos is a fire-prone vegetation and the plants have adopted various strategies to survive fires, but most fall into one of the two broad categories of resprouter or seeder. Resprouters are those that have an enlarged underground rootstock (lignotuber) that survives and resprouts after a fire. Seeders are plants that are killed by a fire and rely on seeds to recolonis e the area. Resprouting species are multi-stemmed at their base, whereas, seeders are single-stemmed. Only 10% of Erica species are resprouters. Resprouting ericas do not all have a well-developed lignotuber, they have thickened upper lateral roots and vegetative buds on the underground stem base, which is slightly enlarged. Resprouting species store starch in their root tissue. Erica sparsa has a mix of both seeders and resprouters in its wild population.
Erica sparsa is not widely grown as a garden plant in South Africa, although it is available at some retail nurseries and deserves a place in more home gardens. It is grown and sold as a flowering pot plant in some countries. Flowering branches make an excellent, long-lasting cut flower, and it is available in the cut-flower market.
Growing Erica sparsa var. sparsa
Grow Erica sparsa in a sunny position, in well-drained (sandy), composted, acidic (pH 5-6.5) soil. Mulch with well-rotted compost in spring and autumn, and keep root disturbance to a minimum. Grow it in the fynbos garden, Mediterranean style garden, and in rockeries, on a sandy slope, in containers, and it should cope well with windy coastal conditions.
Propagate by seeds or cuttings. Sow fresh seed in late summer to autumn (March/April-May). Use a well-drained, acidic soil medium. Treat with Instant Smoke Plus Seed Primer to improve germination. The seeds are fine and need only a light covering. Water with a fine rose to avoid displacing the seeds. Germination takes 1–2 months. The seedlings are very small and delicate, continue to water gently with a fine rose. Transplant the seedlings into individual bags or pots when they are about 10 mm high and grow on in light shade until they are established. Feeding with a dilute liquid fertiliz er every week, will encourage growth. Seedlings are slow-growing, taking a year or more before they are large enough to be planted into the garden.
Take semi-hardwood tip or 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 ±24oC. Pot the rooted cuttings in a well-drained, acidic soil medium and harden off in light shade for a month or two.
- Bell, T.L. & Ojeda, F. 1999. Underground starch storage in Erica species of the Cape Floristic Region—differences between seeders and resprouters. New Phytologist. 144: 143–152.
- Dulfer, H. von. 1963. Neue Arten und Varietäten der Gattung Erica L. aus Süd-Afrika. Ann.Naturhist.Mus.Wien. 66: 19–33.
- Foden, W. & Potter, L. 2005. Erica sparsa Lodd. var. sparsa. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2014.1. Accessed on 2015/01/14
- 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.
- Ojeda, F. 1998. Biogeography of seeder and resprouter Erica species in the Cape Floristic Region—Where are the resprouters? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 63: 331–347.
- Schumann, D., Kirsten, G. & Oliver, E.G.H. 1992. Ericas of South Africa. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg.
- Smith, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35. Government Printer, Pretoria.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Late Summer, Autumn, Winter
Flower colour: White, Pink, Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average