Yellow heath shines brightly between mountains and marshes

The yellow of sunshine as winter turns to spring. That's how the Dwarf Heath, Erica nana, just one of the heaths only found in the Cape region of South Africa, has been described.

With  770 species, southern Africa has 90% of the world's ericas, or heaths. Europe, well known for its heaths and heathers, has only 21 species.

This low-growing shrub is considered one of the showiest and maybe yellowest. The flowers start yellow-green but in full bloom they turn the whole bush bright yellow.  

I need to now make a confession. The lovely yellow flowers at the top of this post are a hybrid, with Erica nana one of the parents. So if you can't climb the 'high slopes of the Hottentots Holland Mountains' or crawl among the 'cracks and crevices above Kogel Bay' you can at least appreciate some of the attributes of the Dwarf Erica in your garden.

I saw and photographed it in the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, in Bettys Bay, an hour's drive south-east of Cape Town and not too far from both the Hottentots Holland Mountains and Krogel Bay. 

The hybrid was bred and raised at Harold Porter in 1988. It's a cross between Erica patersonia and Erica nana, called Erica 'Glengold'. According to the signs at Harold Porter, the name was devised by Dolf Shumann, collector and co-author of the book Ericas of South Africa. However, if appears, the cross was actually made by A. van der Zeyde, and registered by Deon Kotze.

Erica 'Glengold' is grown at Kirstenbosch and many other botanic gardens, and gardens, in South Africa and elsewhere. I'm presuming it is sterile, and therefore not likely to become a troublesome invasive weed in Australia (as at least eight species are).

The parent Dwarf Heath has always been rare in its natural habitat, in those mountains near to Bettys Bay. Frequent fires, road building and over-harvesting by wildflower collectors have increased its scarcity and today it's known from only three localities.

This is what it really looks like, unhybridised.

While I'm presuming both parent species are still grown in Harold Porter, I missed them there. This specimen, in a pot, I photographed a few days later at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

Erica patersonia is also a rare species from the local area around Betty's Bay and another low-growing plant (to one metre high). However it grows naturally in wet, marshy areas. So it seems the hybrid is more vigorous in a garden setting like this, somewhere between the mountain rocks and the coastal flats.

On my visit in August 2018, as this picture from a hill looking back over the botanic garden shows, the only sunshine was from 'Glengold'.