October 4, 2012

Rare plant in Napier Mountain Conservancy

Erica recurvata was (re)discovered in the Napier Mountain Conservancy in 2007. These plants only occur in massive rocks and individual plants are speculated to be hundreds of years old. Only about 50 plants in total are known to exist.

These plants grow wedged in a cleft in a huge rock which protects the plant from being killed by fire. Each flower that you can see is about the size of your thumb nail. There is a painting of this plant in the first botanical record published in a book about 200 years ago – Andrew’s Heathery. Ted Oliver, the doyen of Ericas has plates from this old book and could make the connection when he saw the digital photographs taken. Ted had, up until then, believed that the picture in Andrew’s Heathery was of a hybrid developed at Kew Gardens. The rediscovery got wide coverage and was featured in the main Cape Town dailies, and the Reader’s Digest. Stephen Smuts, chairperson of the Napier Mountain Conservancy, said that Ted speculates that seed was collected in the late 1700s/early 1800s by a collector named Nivens and sent to Kew. The seed would have been grown to a flowering stage from which the botanical plate was drawn and then coloured in by hand.

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