The more humble Ericaceae – better known to the British visitor from the heathers of Scotland than the mountains of South Africa – has no fewer than 682 species occurring in the Fynbos Biome and 104 on the Cape Peninsula alone. Kirstenbosch has 252 species of this rather difficult garden genus. Like proteas, ericas are very vulnerable to fungal attack.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Attractions Map Photo Gallery
In addition, many Erica species are narrow endemics, limited in their natural distribution – in many cases to a single mountain or coastal plain. Many of these endemics are threatened by land transformation such as agriculture, urbanisation or the invasion of alien vegetation. Over 90 per cent of the landscape of many lowland fynbos vegetation types has been completely transformed over the past three centuries. Some 126 Erica species in the Kirstenbosch collection are threatened in the wild, while two species, Erica verticillata and E. turgida, are extinct in the wild (see page 140).
The Erica Garden was started in 1972 by John Winter (who would become Curator from 1979 to 1999) with the assistance of Dickie Bowler – a member of the Bowler family, which has been associated with the Garden since its founding. A well-drained site was chosen, on acid quartzitic soils on the upper slopes of the developed Garden, and large boulders were positioned to enhance the visual impact of the beds and to create microhabitats for the different species. Each of nine beds, separated by rolling lawns, represents a particular phytogeographic region within the Cape Floral Kingdom, presenting the endemic and rare species unique to it. Ericas from the different regions grow together with their associated fynbos species, including selections from the protea, restio, buchu and fynbos bulb families.
False Buchu Agathosma ovata ‘Kluitjieskraal ’ makes an attractive mauve edging to plantings of shrubby ericas. The buchu family (Rutaceae) has many species that are of value in traditional medicine.
The aromatic family Rutaceae, or buchu, well known for its use in traditional medicines and as an essence for perfumes, is also rich in species: 314 in South Africa, with 55 of these represented in the Garden. It is the Rutaceae that give the fynbos its characteristic aroma – overly pungent to some but loved by many. Crush the leaves of any rutaceous species and enjoy the rich, musky fragrance.
Until recently, the Restionaceae – or Cape reeds – were almost unknown to gardeners in South Africa and beyond. With 314 species in the country, few were cultivated in the Garden until some innovative field research revealed the germination cue for restios (see page 176). This led to the development of a new Restio Garden, with trial beds of 55 species. The majority proved to be excellent structure plants for landscaping, especially in large gardens and estates.
Special selections of the Forest Lily Clivia miniata are being trialled in the Enchanted Forest.
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