The Restoration of Erica verticillata - a Case Study in Species and Habitat Restoration and Implications for the Cape Flora

Anthony Hitchcock, Anthony G. Rebelo


The Threatened Species Programme at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, is integrated to include both ex situ and in situ conservation activities. Plant conservation is driven by South Africa’s Strategy for Plant Conservation which was developed in response to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

This case study examines the conservation of Erica verticillata (whorl heath), a flagship for threatened species at Kirstenbosch, and documents the integration of ex situ with in situ conservation at three areas on the Cape Flats. The whorl heath was thought to be extinct by 1950. Horticulturists have since rediscovered eight clones in botanic gardens worldwide, the Heather Society and commercial growers. Ex situ conservation in botanic garden collections and the Millennium Seed Bank has since allowed in situ conservation in the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos vegetation type. The process of restoring the whorl heath presented many challenges. Initially attempts were hampered by limited available knowledge on suitable niche habitats. Pioneering work carried out at Rondevlei Nature Reserve identified the suitable habitat and this was applied in subsequent in situ work at Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area and at Tokai Park – the only natural areas remaining in or near this species’ historical distribution range. Successful re-establishment of this species depends upon its capacity to recruit after fire, which is an essential ecological process in the fynbos. Many clones have been in cultivation for a long time and are poor seed producers: seed production was first recorded at Rondevlei only after additional clones were planted together. Only one population (Rondevlei) to date has seen a fire and thus has recruited seedlings; however these are competing with vigorous companion plants.

The study continues and is currently exploring the role of herbivory in the restoration process. The key lesson learnt to date is the need to include sustainable management of the entire ecosystem in the restoration process and not limit it to single species. Success in restoring a species depends upon a healthy stand of the vegetation type in place, along with pollinators and other key fauna and other natural ecosystem processes. It is recommended that successful re- establishment of a species in fynbos requires the reintroduced population to survive three fire cycles.


Ericaceae; Conservation

Full Text:



ADAMSON, R.S. & SALTER, T.M. (1950). Flora of the Cape Peninsula. Juta & Co., Ltd., Cape Town and Johannesburg

ARGUS (2006). Rondevlei boosts new species thought to be extinct. Fynbos sanctuary plants new attitudes in residents, 16 August, p. 8

BERGVLIET PRIMARY SCHOOL (2013). History. Available online: (accessed July 2017)

BROWN, N.A.C., KOTZE, G. & BOTHA, P.A. (1993). The promotion of seed germination of Cape Erica species by plant-derived smoke. Seed Science and Technology, 21, 573–580

CADMAN, M. (ed.) (2016). Fynbos Forum Ecosystem Guidelines for Environmental Assessment (2nd edn), Chapter 4, pp. 60–78. Available online: http://biodiversityadvisor


CAPE TIMES (2015). Three-year Gantouw Pilot Project will reintroduce eland to the Cape Flats. 23 November, p. 3

CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY (2010). Updated Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2011–2020. Available online: (accessed June 2017)

GIBBS, D. (2014). Baptism of Fire. Veld & Flora, 100(1), 30–32

GROBLER, A. (ed.) (2013). Erica verticillata Ericaceae. Flowering Plants of Africa, 63, 104–119

HILTON-TAYLOR, C. (1996a). Red Data List of Southern African Plants. Strelitzia, 4. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria

HILTON-TAYLOR, C. (1996b). Threatened Ericaceae in southern Africa. Yearbook of the Heather Society, 7–16

HITCHCOCK, A. (2003). Erica verticillata is brought back from the brink of extinction. Yearbook of the Heather Society, 45–50

HITCHCOCK, A. (2006). Restoration Conservation at Kirstenbosch. Veld & Flora, 92(1), 40–44

HITCHCOCK, A. (2007). The return of Erica verticillata. Veld & Flora, 93(1), 14–17

HITCHCOCK, A. (2013). Erica verticillata P.J.Bergius (Ericaceae). PlantZAfrica. Available online: (accessed June 2017)

HITCHCOCK, A., COWELL, C. & REBELO, A. (2012). The lost fynbos of Tokai Park. Veld & Flora, 98(1), 30–33

HITCHCOCK, A., COWELL, C. & STAUCH, M. (2008). Weaving the Golden Circle: Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area. Veld & Flora, 94(1), 31–35

HITCHCOCK, A. & SEPTEMBER, J. (2016). Kirstenbosch Threatened Species Programme: Tokai Rehabilitation Project. Unpublished Report

HOLMES, P. & PUGNALIN, A. (2016). The Biodiversity Network for the City of Cape Town Municipal Area. C Plan & Marxan Analysis: 2016 Methods and Results. Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD), City of Cape Town, June 2016. Available online:

reports%20and%20review/BioNet_Analysis-2016_C-Plan+MARXAN_Method+Results_report_2016-07.pdf (accessed June 2017)

HOLMES, P.M., REBELO, A.G., DORSE, C. & WOOD, J. (2012). Can Cape Town’s unique biodiversity be saved? Balancing conservation imperatives and development needs. Ecology and Society, 17(2), 28. Available online: (accessed June 2017)

IUCN STANDARDS AND PETITIONS SUBCOMMITTEE (2016). Guidelines for Using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. Version 12. Available online to download: (accessed March 2017)

KENILWORTH RACECOURSE CONSERVATION AREA (2006). Available online: (accessed June 2017)

KRAAIJ, T. & VAN WILGEN, B. (2014). Drivers, ecology and management of fire in fynbos. In ALLSOPP, N., COLVILLE, J.F. & VERBOOM, G.A. Fynbos: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation of a Megadiverse Region. Oxford University Press, Oxford

MUCINA, L. & RUTHERFORD, M.C. (2006). The Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. SANBI, Pretoria

OLIVER, E.G.H. & OLIVER, I.M. (2005). The genus Erica (Ericaceae) in southern Africa: taxonomic notes 2. Bothalia, 35(2), 121–148

OLIVER, I. & OLIVER, E.G.H. (2000). Field Guide to the Ericas of the Cape Peninsula. Protea Atlas Project, National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.

RAIMONDO, D. (ed.) (2015). South Africa’s Strategy for Plant Conservation. South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Botanical Society of South Africa, Pretoria

RAIMONDO, D., VON STADEN, L., FODEN, W., VICTOR, J.E., HELME, N.A., TURNER, R.C., KAMUNDI, D.A. & MANYAMA, P.A. (2009). Red List of South African Plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria

SEPTEMBER, J. (2010). A felling tale. Restoring critically endangered lowland fynbos in the Tokai Plantation. Veld & Flora, 96(3), 134–135

STIPINOVICH, A. & HOLMES, P. (2009). City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Network. C-Plan & Marxan Analysis: 2009 Methods and Results. Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD), City of Cape Town, December 2009. Available online:

and%20review/BioNet_Analysis-009_Methods+Results_report_2009-12.pdf (accessed June 2016)


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 Anthony Hitchcock, Anthony G. Rebelo

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.