''Calluna vulgaris'', common heather, ling, or simply heather, is the sole species in the genus
''Calluna'' in the flowering plant
. It is a low-growing evergreen shrub
growing to tall, or rarely to and taller, and is found widely in Europe and Asia Minor on acid
ic soils in open sunny situations and in moderate shade. It is the dominant plant in most heathland
in Europe, and in some bog
vegetation and acidic pine
woodland. It is tolerant of grazing and regenerates following occasional burning, and is often managed in nature reserves and grouse moor
s by sheep or cattle grazing, and also by light burning.
''Calluna'' was separated from the closely related genus ''Erica'' by Richard Anthony Salisbury
, who devised the generic name ''Calluna'' probably from the Greek
''Kallyno (καλλύνω)'', "beautify, sweep clean", in reference to its traditional use in besom
s. The specific epithet
''vulgaris'' is Latin
for 'common'. ''Calluna'' is differentiated from ''Erica'' by its corolla
each being in four parts instead of five.
''Calluna'' has small scale-leaves (less than 2–3 mm long) borne in opposite and decussate
pairs, whereas those of ''Erica'' are generally larger and in whorls of 3–4, sometimes 5.
[Clive Stace, (2010) ''New Flora of the British Isles'', 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press.]
It flowers from July to September.
In wild plants these are normally mauve, but white-flower
ed plants also occur occasionally. They are terminal in racemes with sepal-like bracts at the base with a superior ovary, the fruit a capsule. Unlike ''Erica'', ''Calluna'' sometimes sports double flowers. ''Calluna'' is sometimes referred to as Summer (or Autumn) heather to distinguish it from winter or spring flowering species of ''Erica''.
''Calluna vulgaris'' is extremely cold-hardy
, surviving severe exposure and freezing conditions well below . It is native to Europe
, the Faroe Islands
, and the Azores
It has been introduced into many other places worldwide with suitable climates, including North America
, New Zealand
and the Falkland Islands
thumb|left|''Calluna'' flower close-up
Despised until the 19th century for its associations with the most rugged rural poverty, heather's growth in popularity may be paralleled with the vogue for alpine plant
s. It is a very popular ornamental plant
s and for landscaping, in lime-free areas where it will thrive, but has defeated many a gardener on less acid soil.
There are many named cultivar
s, selected for variation in flower colour and for different foliage colour and growing habits.
Different cultivars have flower colours ranging from white, through pink and a wide range of purples, and including reds. The flowering season with different cultivars extends from late July to November in the northern hemisphere. The flowers may turn brown but still remain on the plants over winter, and this can lead to interesting decorative effects.
Cultivars with ornamental foliage are usually selected for reddish and golden leaf colour. A few forms can be silvery grey. Many of the ornamental foliage forms change colour with the onset of winter weather, usually increasing in intensity of colour. Some forms are grown for distinctive young spring foliage. Cultivars
include ‘Beoley Crimson’ (Crimson red), ‘Boskoop’ (light purple), ‘Cuprea’ (copper), 'Firefly' (deep mauve),‘Long White’ (white).
The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society
's Award of Garden Merit
*'Alexandra' (Garden Girls series)
*'Alicia' (Garden Girls series)
Heather is an important food source for various sheep and deer which can graze the tips of the plants when snow covers low-growing vegetation. Willow grouse
and red grouse
feed on the young shoots and seeds of this plant. Both adult and larva
of the heather beetle (''Lochmaea suturalis
'') feed on it, and can cause extensive mortality in some instances. The larvae of a number of Lepidoptera
species also feed on the plant, notably the small emperor moth ''Saturnia pavonia
Formerly heather was used to dye wool yellow and to tan leather. With malt
, heather is an ingredient in gruit
, a mixture of flavourings used in the brewing of heather-beer
during the Middle Ages
before the use of hops
. Thomas Pennant
wrote in ''A Tour in Scotland'' (1769) that on the Scottish island of Islay
"ale is frequently made of the young tops of heath, mixing two thirds of that plant with one of malt, sometimes adding hops".
From time immemorial heather has been used for making besom
s, a practice recorded in "Buy Broom Buzzems
" a song probably written by William Purvis (Blind Willie)
(1752–1832) from Newcastle-upon-Tyne
is a highly valued product in moorland and heathland areas, with many beehives
being moved there in late summer. Not always as valued as it is today, it was dismissed as ''mel improbum'', "unwholesome honey" by Dioscurides
. Heather honey has a characteristic strong taste, and an unusual texture, for it is thixotropic
, being a jelly
until stirred, when it becomes a syrup like other honey, but then sets again to a jelly. This makes the extraction
of the honey from the comb difficult, and it is therefore often sold as comb honey
White heather is regarded in Scotland as being lucky, a tradition brought from Balmoral
to England by Queen Victoria
and sprigs of it are often sold as a charm
and worked into bridal bouquet
Heather stalks are used by a small industry in Scotland as a raw material for sentimental jewellery. The stalks are stripped of bark, dyed in bright colours and then compressed with resin.
''Calluna vulgaris'' herb has been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally as tea for treatment of disorders of the kidneys and urinary tract.
The plant was introduced to New Zealand and has become an invasive weed
in some areas, notably the Tongariro National Park
in the North Island and the Wilderness Reserve (Te Anau) in the South Island, overgrowing native plants. Heather beetles
have been released to stop the heather, with preliminary trials successful to date.
The shoots of ''Calluna vulgaris'' contain the phenolic compounds chlorogenic acid
, its 3-O-glucoside, 3-O-galactoside and 3-O-arabinoside.
Heather is seen as iconic of Scotland
, where the plant grows widely. When poems like ''Bonnie Auld Scotland'' speak of "fragrant hills of purple heather', when the hero of ''Kidnapped''
flees through the heather, when heather and Scotland are linked in the same sentence, the heather talked about is ''Calluna vulgaris''.
Purple heather is one of the two national flowers
* List of Lepidoptera that feed on ''Calluna''
* Heath (habitat)
Category:Butterfly food plants
Category:Garden plants of Europe
Category:Garden plants of Asia
Category:Flora of Europe
Category:Flora of Russia
Category:Monotypic Ericaceae genera
Category:Taxa named by Carl Linnaeus