Heaths & Heathers

Cross-leaved Heath Spring Heath Bell Heather Cornish Heath

What are they?

The heather family is well known for its dislike of chalky soil, for carpeting great swathes of heathland with brilliant colour in late summer and for providing a number of our garden ornamental plants. Apart from their love of acid soils, the members of this family are rather diverse, but most are woody trees, shrubs or low subshrubs and most have flowers that have the five petals fused together to form a flask-like tube. This page covers the subgroup of plants in this family that are known as heaths and heathers. These are generally wiry-stemmed sub-shrubs with often needle-like leaves and which produce masses of pink or white flowers in late summer.

Where are they found?

Our native species are plants of open, acid heaths, where they are often one of the dominant plant species. A number of other species, as well as varieties and forms of our native species, are popular as garden plants and may occasonally be found where garden waste is dumped or where deliberately planted in the wider countryside. Native plants tend to dominate in suitable habitats, while introduced plants or garden escapes will tend to appear as odd, single plants.

Identification

Most species can be told apart by a combination of leaf features and flower features; leaf shape and the presence or absence of marginal hairs should be noted. With the flowers, note the colour and the shape of the flowers, their position on the branches (towards the tip or middle of the branch for example) and the appearance of the stamens and styles (especially whether the protrude beyond the mouth of the petal tube or not).



Common Heather      Calluna vulgaris

(Ling) Native on acidic, sandy soils and often a dominant feature of open heaths. Flowers July to September. The cypress-like, overlapping leaves and flowers with petals not fused into a flask-like tube make this an easy species to identify. Cultivated varieties may be found where occasionally planted in the wider countryside and vary greatly in the colour and hairiness of the leaves and in the flowers colour, which can range from white, through pink to purple.

Common Heather Common Heather Common Heather
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Common Heather Common Heather Common Heather Common Heather
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Bell Heather      Erica cinerea

Native on acidic, sandy soils and often a dominant feature of open heaths. Flowers July to September. Flower colour varies greatly from pale pink to purple. Anthers not extending beyond the petal tube; leaves in whorls of three, with their margins broadly rolled under.

Bell Heather Bell Heather Bell Heather Bell Heather
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Bell Heather Bell Heather Bell Heather Bell Heather
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Cross-leaved Heath      Erica tetralix

Native on acidic, sandy soils, especially in damp spots and boggy hollows. Flowers July to September. Flowers pale pink, carried in tight clusters at the ends of the upright stems. Anthers not extending beyond the petal tube; leaves in whorls of four, with their margins broadly rolled under and having scattered hairs.

Cross-leaved Heath Cross-leaved Heath Cross-leaved Heath
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Cross-leaved Heath Cross-leaved Heath Cross-leaved Heath Cross-leaved Heath
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Darley Dale Heath      Erica x darleyensis

A hybrid of horticultural origin. Often used in amenity plantings and odd plants occasionally found where planted on roadsides and in grassy places. Flowers November to June. Grows to 60cm in height. Flowers various shades of pink, or white carried in clusters along the more or less upright stems. Anthers extending beyond the petal tube; leaves in whorls of four, with their margins broadly rolled under and hairless. Differs from Spring Heath in having ridges on the stems becoming much thinner and less prominent towards their lower end and not reaching the next leaf node down.

Darley Dale Heath Darley Dale Heath Darley Dale Heath Darley Dale Heath
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Darley Dale Heath Darley Dale Heath Darley Dale Heath Darley Dale Heath
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Spring Heath      Erica carnea

Introduced as a garden ornamental from mainland Europe and widely used as an amenity plant, from where it may spread by creeping stems into nearby areas. Flowers March to June. Grows to 60cm in height but oftem much less and typically more horizontal in growth than Darley Dale Heath. Flowers various shades of pink, or white carried in clusters along stems. Anthers extending beyond the petal tube; leaves in whorls of four, with their margins broadly rolled under and hairless. Differs from Darley Dale Heath in having ridges on the stems remaining prominent along their length and clearly reaching the next leaf node down.

Spring Heath Spring Heath Spring Heath Spring Heath
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Cornish Heath      Erica vagans

Introduced as a garden ornamental in our region and once recorded in Suffolk, where persisting on a former garden site. Flowers July to August. Flowers pink or white, carried in tight clusters along the stems but with the leafy stems extending beyond the flowers, giving the flowering shoots a strongly tapered look. Anthers slightly extending beyond the petal tube; leaves in whorls of four to five, with their margins broadly rolled under and hairless.

Cornish Heath Cornish Heath Cornish Heath Cornish Heath
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Cornish Heath Cornish Heath Cornish Heath
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St Dabeoc's Heath      Daboecia cantabrica

Introduced as a garden ornamental in our region and once recorded in Suffolk, where persisting on a former garden site. Flowers July to September. A wiry subshrub, growing to 50cm in height. Flowers pinkish-purple or white, carried in open clusters at the tips of the stems. Anthers not extending beyond the petal tube; leaves alternate, not in whorls, with their margins only narrowly rolled under.

St Dabeoc's Heath St Dabeoc's Heath St Dabeoc's Heath St Dabeoc's Heath
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St Dabeoc's Heath St Dabeoc's Heath St Dabeoc's Heath St Dabeoc's Heath
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