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Monday, May 5, 2014

Groove Tree Heath (Erica canaliculata)

Family Ericaceae 
Distribution and habitat
Erica canaliculata grows along the coastal plains and valleys from George to Humansdorp in the Western and Eastern Cape. This species is found on moist flats and lower slopes . It tolerates full sunlight in the open where it will be more compact in growth reaching a height of about 3 m. It is however more often found along forest margins where it grows into a small tree 5 m tall. It grows in poor, well drained, acidic soils derived from weathered quartzite.
Erica canaliculata is a large, erect shrub up to 2 or 3 m high, sometimes developing into a small tree up to 5 m tall. It is well branched and covered with small green leaves giving a fine, soft texture. The main stem develops into a trunk up to 100 mm in diameter on large specimens. The bark is grayish-brown and has grooves in the old stems. It is a most impressive species that grows into a small tree that is covered with thousands of small pink flowers in summer. This species produces lovely displays along forest margins or in the thick fynbos-filled valleys of the southern Western and Eastern Cape.

This species produces a profusion of small cup-shaped pink flowers in clusters near the ends of its branches mainly during summer (from November to February). The flowers are distinguished by their very long styles, which protrude from the flower. Another feature is that the calyx has four lobes instead of four separate sepals and the anthers are muticous, which means they do not have appendages such as awns.

The fresh flowers have a strong fragrance, which becomes very noticeable while working with cut specimens. Its scent is a bit musty, with a sweet soapy smell, not unpleasant yet not exactly pleasant either.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
This species is named from the Latin word, ‘canaliculatus' which means channelled, referring to the grooves in its old stems. Plants were collected by European collectors and grown in Europe in the nineteenth century, and specimens are still in cultivation at the Belvedere Palace Gardens in Vienna after 200 years. At this garden plants are grown in large pots and pruned into the shape of a lollypop.
It appears to be pollinated by bees and small insects
Uses and cultural aspects
Erica canaliculata is a very showy species when in flower. It is recommended as a strong growing, reliable garden plant and is easy to maintain in average Mediterranean conditions and will also grow well as a large pot plant.

This species is ideal for a fynbos garden or even for a semishade garden as long as it gets some direct sunlight in the day. Flowering branches make an excellent, long-lasting cutflower.