Erica (Erica verticillata)

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderEricales
FamilyEricaceae
GenusErica (1)
SizeHeight: up to 1.5 m (2)

Classified as Extinct in the Wild (EW) on the Interim Red Data List of South African Plant Taxa (3).

Last collected from the wild during the early 20th century, and believed to be extinct up until 1984, Erica verticillata has, through the collaborative efforts of several conservationists, become something of a conservation success story (2) (4) (5). It is a striking shrub that produces beautiful, mauve-pink tubular flowers towards the ends of sturdy branches. The flowers and leaves are arranged in neat whorls, hence the specific epithet ‘verticillata’, which means whorled (2) (4).

Historically, E. verticillata occurred naturally on the Cape flats of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, from the Black River in Mowbray to Zeekoeivlei on the False Bay coast (2) (5). Today, a small number of specimens have been replanted in the wild at Rondevlei Nature Reserve and the Kenilworth Race Course (4) (5).

This fynbos endemic prefers seasonally damp, acid, sandy soils near rivers and wetlands (4) (5).

Erica verticillata flowers from late summer to autumn and is visited by a range of nectar seekers and pollinators, such as the lesser double-collared sunbird, hawk moths and bumblebees (2) (5).

Having once grown profusely on the Cape Flats, E. verticillata probably became extinct in the wild during the early 20thcentury when the expansion of urban and agricultural development in Cape Town destroyed most of this species’ habitat (4). However, during the 1980s and 1990s, a number of living specimens were discovered in botanical gardens in South Africa and Europe. Following the successful cultivation of clones of the original specimens, E. verticillata has become a popular garden plant, and has been reintroduced to two conservation areas (2) (4) (5).   

Erica verticillata has become a flagship species for the Cape flora of South Africa, as it symbolizes the plight of the region’s vanishing species (4). The Cape Floristic Region contains nearly 9,000 plant species, most of which are found nowhere else in the world. This unique area is thus highly valued for its incredible diversity in plants, and there are a number of protected areas, and a number of conservation organisations are working to conserve this botanically rich habitat. Conservation actions include purchasing land to protect it from the threats of encroaching agriculture and urban development, the removal of alien plants, and the establishment of new protected areas (6) (7) (8).

To find out more about the conservation of Erica verticillata, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. Species 2000 ITIS Catalogue of Life (August, 2009)
    http://www.catalogueoflife.org/
  2. PlantzAfrica (March, 2010)
    http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantefg/ericaverticil.htm
  3. Threatened Species Programme. (2009) Interim Red Data List of South African Plant Taxa. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.  Available at:
    http://www.sanbi.org/biodiversity/reddata.htm
  4. The Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area (March, 2010)
    http://www.krca.co.za/information/project/Ericaverticillata.asp
  5. Rotal Botanic Gardens, Kew (March, 2010)
    http://www.kew.org/msbp/plantstories/Erica_verticillata.htm
  6. Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots (March, 2010)
    http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/hotspots/cape_floristic/Pages/default.aspx
  7. UNEP-WCMC: Cape Floral Protected Areas of South Africa (March, 2010)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/medialibrary/2011/06/29/2823bc8a/Cape%20Floral.pdf
  8. Fauna and Flora International (March, 2010)
    http://www.fauna-flora.org/fynbos.php