Erica 'Gengold'

Family Ericaceae

Erica 'Gengold' :Image Peter Swart

It is not often that one unearths a gem that has developed by chance. The hybridisation of two erica species in the Harold Porter Botanical Garden at Betty's Bay has yielded a wonderful hybrid with superb potential for pot culture and as a rockery plant.

The story begins, as so many others have, with the horticultural exploits of John Winter erstwhile curator and plant collector remembered for his sterling work in developing Kirstenbosch into the internationally renowned gardens of today. He collected extensively in the Cape Floral Kingdom to build up superb collections of the Protea and Erica families, which formed the backbone of the collections we have today.

The Parents

Ericas are one of his passions and he made numerous trips up mountains to gather seed or cuttings of a variety of beautiful species. One of these was Erica nana, 'nana' refers to its low spreading growth habit. It grows at a relatively high altitude on the Hottentots Holland and Kogelberg range; this limited range and habitat classifies it as 'rare'.

E. nana (left) and E. patersonia (right)This species is slow growing and sprawls over rocks and cliff faces forming a densely growing, spreading shrub, which may reach a metre in diameter and only 300mm high. Where it is found between rocks and in crevices it may become taller and will tolerate semi-shade as long as the light quality is good.
A profusion of luminescent tubular yellow flowers cover the entire bush from September and October.

The other parent, Erica patersonia, is by contrast a tall species supporting the adage that opposites are attracted to each other! This plant produces a number of erect branches densely covered with leaves and growing up to a metre tall. It produces spikes of packed tubular yellow flowers that look like corn on the cob hence its common name, 'mealie heath'. This species occurs in marshy flats and coastal plains from Cape Point to the Hermanus area. Urban development, farming and flower picking are serious threats to its survival.
Both Erica nana and Erica patersonia are good horticultural plants and not difficult to grow.

Erica 'Gengold' in the garden

The offspring

John Winter collected seed of Erica nana in 1971 and supplied some to the Harold Porter Botanical Garden. These plants grew well in the nursery and soon flowered. This event led to its intimate encounter with Erica patersonia, which flowers from April to November. Seed collected from plants in the garden produced a sport that was recognised by the curator, Alfred van der Zeyde, as something different. The plant was isolated and planted in a garden bed outside the curator's office. The result was a superb hybrid combining all the best attributes of both parents. It retains the lovely compact habit of Erica nana while introducing the dense foliage of Erica patersonia. Hybrids are known to display vigour and this one is no exception.

Cuttings brought back to Kirstenbosch by Deon Kotze proved easy to root and soon a number of plants were established in the collection. The golden hue of the flowers gave rise to its registered name Erica 'Gengold', which was given it by the famed Erica collector and co-author of the book, Ericas of South Africa, Dolf Schumann.

Erica 'Gengold' shows more attributes inherited from Erica nana. It forms a densely growing, compact plant with a thick woody base. It is an ideal pot plant producing a sturdy, neat shrublet with closely-knit branches no more than 300mm in height. It flowers in September and October producing magnificent displays of bright yellow blooms that cover the entire plant. Like Erica nana, it tolerates light shade, but will flower better if placed in full sunlight.

It is ideally suited to medium or large pots and should be planted in a well- drained acid growing medium. It holds its shape and therefore rarely has to be pruned. It will also do well in rockeries where it can cascade over and between the rocks and has optimum drainage.

Erica Gengold is a cultivar registered by Kirstenbosch that may only be grown by nurseries licensed to do so.

Anthony Hitchcock
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
August 2000

To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website