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Plant story - protecting the future of Erica verticillata

Erica verticillata was last seen in the wild in 1908 and was, until 1984, thought to be extinct. It has since been found and re-established thanks to the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership.

Through the efforts of Mr Anthony Hitchcock, the Millennium Seed Bank and other horticulturalists at Kirstenbosch Gardens, Erica verticillata has been  re-established at Kenilworth Race Course.

Five plants were located in botanical gardens, and the research team at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank has established that all five plants are true forms of E. verticillata.

Making more plants

Seed was collected from the Pretoria and Kirstenbosch gardens and banked to prevent this plant species being lost again. Some of the seed collected has been sown and grown in the Kirstenbosch Nursery. Plants were grown on for one year and then planted out at Kenilworth Racecourse in the cold wet rains of 2005, 2006 and 2007. Of the first 2005 planting only 50% survived.

However, not all was lost as much was learned about where to place the plants for best success, so only 10% of the 2006 plantings were lost.

Species profile

This attractive shrub grows to 1.5 m and has a whorl of pale to dark pink tubular flowers during the summer months. It is a narrow endemic and its range was historically from Black River in Cape Town to Zeekoeivlei on the False Bay coast. Its natural habitat is in Sand Fynbos, and the only remaining Sand Fynbos habitat left in virgin condition is at the Kenilworth Race Course.

Another rare plant found

In March of 2007, five Erica turgida plants were found flowering at the site of the first planting. This species was thought to be extinct! There was much excitement about this and questions as to how they were overlooked. The answers are still in the wind but it also appears that pollen was too, as these plants are producing seed in the wild.

 

Story by Carly Cowell, South African National Biodiversity Institute, 2007