South African Tree Heaths

This past February at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle I bought two South African tree heaths in four inch pots, potted them on, watered well and hoped to see some blooms.  Erica speciosa and Erica canaliculata are both blooming now!

erica speciosa

Erica speciosa

Erica speciosa reportedly is hardy to 20° Fahrenheit, while Erica canaliculata is a bit more tender, listed as hardy to only 30°

Erica canaliculata

Erica canaliculata

These two plants, from the genus Erica, are endemic (found only in one area of the world) to the Cape Peninsula of South Africa, where apparently over 600 Erica species call home. Up close the blooms are stunning.

Erica speciosa

Erica speciosa

Erica canaliculata

Erica canaliculata

I purchased my plants from the Heaths and Heathers’ booth at the show. Their retail nursery is near Shelton, WA, while their main nursery collection is on Harstine Island just east of Shelton:

“We have built the equivalent of a national collection of heather here open to the public.  There are over 800 cultivars in this 3/4 of an acre planting…our personal collection boasts over 900 different cultivars.  Many heathers bloom for several months. Some offer colorful foliage during the winter. On others, the new growth tips are very colorful during late winter and spring. Heaths and heathers range from nearly flat as a pancake to pincushion size to tree heaths. Most are very hardy and are growing in nearly every state in the union. They take minimum care and are drought tolerant once established.”

I definitely plan to visit the Heath and Heather nursery soon.

Further afield, in California, a hillside of a lavender colored E. canaliculata is terribly invasive and threatens the native plants north of the San Francisco Bay.  A cautionary tale, as Bob Sikora points out in his comment below.  Clearly this Erica — endemic to another continent  and hemisphere — was introduced to the hospitable Bay area climate and prospered to the detriment of the native plants.


Above photo © Robert Sikora,  available at CalPhotos – a project of BSCIT , University of California, Berkeley

For more on another potentially invasive plant found widely in the nursery trade, see my post on Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ Friend or Foe?

2 thoughts on “South African Tree Heaths

  1. The picture above was shows the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a national park in Marin County, California. Erica canaliculata is very highly invasive. It is shown here smothering out hundreds of acres of remaining native habitat. The cost of a recovery, even here only, far exceeds the horticultural value of the taxon, even at this early stage of the invasion. Think french broom and pampas grass. Plant responsibly. Bob Sikora

  2. Thanks for you comment Bob. I really hope Erica canaliculata is on the prohibited list for sale in California and that growers, gardeners and landscape professionals are aware of its proclivity to take over valuable habitat.

    I checked both King County’s Noxious Weed list and the USDA list of Introduced, Invasive and Noxious Plants for Washington State. Erica canaliculata is not listed. I think our climate and long, wet dark winters, make it unlikely this plant could compete in Western Washington. I’m not so sure about east of the Cascades though. I wonder if gardeners and botanists in Eastern Washington agree.

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