Erica verticillata

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah - February

Common name heath
Scientific name Erica verticillata P.J.Bergius
Family  Ericaceae
Etymology

Genus: Erica: from the Latin ericeto, heath or broom It is believed that Pliny adapted erica from Theophrastus’ Ancient Greek.

Species: verticillata from the Latin adjective meaning having whorls, in reference to the arrangement of the leaves and flowers.

Distribution Officially ‘extinct in the wild’, plants grew in Cape Town, South Africa around Wynberg, Kenilworth and Zeekoevlei. There, the plants occupied the Cape Flats Sand Fynbos vegetation type, threatened by agriculture, urban sprawl and fragmentation. This area is now a hot spot of threatened and extinct taxa.
Native habitat These plants prefer damp sandy, acidic soils.
Description

Erica verticillata is placed in Erica section Evanthe and species in this section have flowers borne on the ends of the lateral branches and are invariably very showy. Plants are usually less than 2 metres in height.

Flowering/fruiting

Flowers appear late summer and are held through autumn and sometimes into winter.

Often sunbirds pollinate this plant in South Africa and at Tomah our local honeyeaters, especially Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris, the eastern spinebill, find the flowers irresistible.

Location

African Rock Garden bed AF105, opposite the top of the Brunet Meadow and the Black Cockatoo sculpture. Elsewhere: in the African Rock Garden: the African Woodland, below and west of the large pond and in the Heath and Heather bed designated for South African plants, below the Northern Pavilion.

 

Erica verticillata was last seen in the wild in 1908 and was, until 1984, thought to be extinct. It has since been found and reestablished thanks to the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. See Carly Cowell, www.kew.org/news/erica-verticillata.htm

There are plenty of interesting stories on the internet about the lengthy botanical detective work and ‘corporate knowledge’ involved in finding living material of this plant held by plant enthusiasts and botanic gardens around the world. Some botanic garden material had been maintained for more than 200 years, e.g. www.krca.co.za/extinct_erica_verticillata, and
www.unep.org/urban_environment/PDFs/BrianWatkyns.pdf

There now seem to be five clones, or forms of this species, available to propagators and molecular investigators. Reintroductions to reserves within the natural range have been successful, particularly at Kenilworth.

Plants of Erica verticillata have been cultivated at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah since 1988 using material received from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. They grow very well here in our free-draining, acidic, basalt-derived soil.

The importance of living collections within botanic gardens is very well illustrated by this particular reintroduction of an extinct plant species.

Erica-verticillata---Plant-of-the-Month-for-February---Blue-Mountains-Botanic-Garden

Erica verticillata