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An evergreen shrub up to 3 ft high (usually from 9 to 24 in.), of staggling habit, much branched; branches densely leafy, and either downy or glabrous. Leaves opposite, arranged in four rows, giving a quadrangular shape to the twig, 1⁄20 to 1⁄10 in. long, closely packed and scale-like. Flowers in slender, one-sided racemes, 1 to 6, or as much as 12 in. long, purplish pink, varying in depth of shade in different plants. The calyx is the chief ornamental part of the flower, and consists of four nearly separate, narrowly oval sepals 3⁄16 in. long; the corolla is about half as long. Stamens eight.
This is the shrub which covers so many thousands of acres of the moors and mountains of the north of England and Scotland, and makes them so beautiful in late summer and autumn. Among native woody plants it is the most abundant and covers the greatest area. In good soil it is apt to grow too quickly and become gaunt and bare, and short-lived; this can be remedied to some extent by cutting over the plants in early spring before growth recommences and removing all the old flower-stems. A poor soil, with peat mixed, keeps the plants dwarf and in better habit. The named varieties, of which there are many, are increased by cuttings or by division. They are useful for planting in masses on dry banks, which, with a little attention at first to weeding and perhaps watering, they will soon take complete possession of, giving beautiful patches of colour from July onwards for many years.
Bees are particularly fond of the flowers, and the honey they give is regarded as of special quality. In my native village in Yorkshire it used to be, and probably still is, the practice for the beehives of the cottagers to be laden on vans and taken every summer to the moors, ten or more miles away, for the bees to collect honey there from the heather. They were brought back in autumn. Branches of heather are much used in the north also for making besoms – in the same way that birch twigs are used in the south.
The following selection of cultivars replaces that provided on pages 474-5. The flowering time is given only when it starts unusually early or is unusually prolonged; for most cultivars it is August.
’Alba Plena’. – Double white, large flowers. Very free flowering. Compact, 8 in.
’Alportii’. – Bright crimson, in long, erect spikes. 2 ft.
’Barnett Anley’. – Soft Petunia Purple (RHS Colour Chart 78C). Compact and erect, vigorous. Foliage fairly dark green. 1 ft.
’Beoley Gold’. – Foliage pale gold throughout the year. Flowers white, not freely borne. 11⁄2 ft.
’County Wicklow’. – Clear pink, double, in spikes 3 to 6 in. long, of dense, prostrate habit. Foliage dark green. 9 in.
‘C. W. Nix’. – Dark crimson. Tall and graceful, with feathery stems. 2 ft.
’Elsie Purnell’. – Flowers double, silvery pink, on long spikes. Very vigorous and compact. 21 in. Late Aug.-Sept. Like ‘Peter Sparkes’, this is a sport from ‘H. E. Beale’.
’Foxii Nana’. – Light purple, shy flowering. A good foliage plant forming dwarf, dense compact cushions of deep green. 3-6 in. July-Oct.
’Gold Haze’. – Plentiful white flowers. A fine, bright golden-yellow foliage plant, the colour persisting throughout the year. 7 in.
’Golden Feather’. – Foliage feathery, gold deepening to soft orange in winter. Not free-flowering. Low, spreading habit.
‘H. E. Beale’. – Silvery pink, double, large, in long spikes. Strong, branching habit. 18 in. One of the best heathers, succeeding even on clay soils. Aug.-Oct.
‘J. H. Hamilton’. – Flowers bright pink, fully double. Semi-prostrate habit, making a low mat of interlacing growth.
’Kinlochruel’. – A sport from ‘County Wicklow’ with double white flowers, borne with exceptional freedom. Habit compact.
’Mullion’. – Deep mauve-pink. Low and close-growing. 5 in.
’Peter Sparkes’. – Similar to ‘H. E. Beale’, of which it is a sport, but flowers deeper pink and habit slightly lower. Aug.-Oct.
’Robert Chapman’. – Foliage greenish gold at first, in winter medium green overlaid orange-red to scarlet. Flowers soft purple. 8 to 10 in.
’Serlei’. – Pure white, freely produced on feathery branches; of rather tall and pyramidal habit, reaching a height of 2-3 ft. An excellent white heather of vigorous habit. Sept.-Nov. A very old cultivar, known since the 1860s, of unrecorded origin.
’Silver Queen’. – Leaves clad in silvery down. Flowers mauve. Low, compact habit. This, like the following, belongs to the var. hirsuta.
’Sister Anne’. – Foliage grey-green, downy. Very dwarf and suitable for the rock garden. Originally known as ‘Hirsuta Compacta’.
’Sunset’. – Foliage golden but becoming orange and finally red in winter. Flowers pink, sparse. 12 in.
’Tib’. – Flowers double, purplish crimson. Compact and erect, vigorous. 10 in. One of the first callunas to flower. July-Aug.
alba (West.) G. Don
E. vulgaris var. alba West
Erica vulgaris var. hirsuta Waitz
C. vulgaris var. tomentosa G. Don
C. vulgaris var. incana Reichb.
C. vulgaris var. hirsuta f. typica Beijerinck