This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol5-6", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This common heath is found to-day (we have no earlier records) in the North Temperate Zone in N. and W. Europe, as far east as Russia. It is common in all parts of Great Britain, except E. Gloucs, as far north as the Shetlands, and ascends to 2400 ft. in the Highlands. It is a native of Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The Cross-leaved Heath is nearly as widely dispersed as Ling, growing in the same habitats, but does not form such extensive patches as the latter. It does not reach so high an altitude as Ling, but occurs generally in the same districts, and principally on high ground.
The Cross-leaved Heath is a shrub, and has the typical heath habit. The plant is often downy and glandular. The stems are branched below, and again just above the middle, simple above, densely leafy below, with more distant whorls above, with a leafless space just below the flower. The stem is wiry, the branches irregular, slender. The young shoots are green at the tip, and much eaten by game. The leaves are in whorls of 4, and are lance-shaped, linear, spreading, blunt, the old leaves hairless, the young leaves fringed with hairs, downy above and on the midrib below, the margins rolled back to the midrib - an adaptation to drought.
The flowers are in a sort of terminal umbel, drooping, rose-coloured, darker above, the parts in fours. The sepals are linear, oblong-lance-shaped, downy. The corolla is regular, egg-shaped, the mouth scarcely oblique. The flower-stalks are short, with bracteoles in the middle.
Photo. J. H. Crabtree - Cross-leaved Heath (Erica Tetralix, L.)
The anthers are spurred, with awl-like awns, and are included. The ovary is downy, with hairs tipped with glands.
The height of this Heath is about 1 ft. It flowers in June up till August. It is an evergreen shrub, propagated by cuttings, and worth cultivating.
The flower is bell-like in form and drooping, so that honey and pollen are amply protected from rain. The mouth of the clapper is 2 mm. wide, nearly taken up by the long style and stigma, and the tube is contracted in the middle, and 1 mm. wide. A dark glandular honey-ring surrounds the base of the ovary, and the style stands in the centre and fills up the mouth, bearing a black, moist, sticky stigma which is slightly exserted. An insect clinging to the flower touches it and is covered with a sticky secretion.
There are 8 anthers on long filaments springing from the base of the ovary. At the end of each are two cells, which are spreading, with an oval aperture below, which, however, does not allow the pollen to escape, as each cell at the aperture rests against the next anther cell, which acts as a sort of cap, the whole series forming a ring round the corolla. The anther-cells are also armed with two horn-like processes which stick out like the spokes of a wheel. The anthers reach just below the sticky stigma. When an insect visits the flower for the honey it rubs against the stigma first with its head, which in a previous flower was dusted with pollen, and it also, in pushing its proboscis down the tube, pierces the chevaux de frise of anther processes, and these release the pollen in the boxes and shower it upon the visitor's head, ready for the next visit as it were. But if insects do not visit the flower the pollen, when discharged from these boxes, falls on the stigma, which is in the fall line.
Amongst the insect visitors are Honey-bees, Bombus, Nomada, Volucella.
The capsule splits open from above, allowing the seeds to fall out or be blown away by the wind.
Cross-leaved Heath is a humus-loving plant, and almost confined to a humus soil.
Several beetles live upon it, Harpalus discoideus, Coccinella hiero-glyphica, C. distincta, Byrrhus murinus, Elater sanguinolenta, Haltica ericeti, and several Hymenoptera, Miscophus concolor, Colletes succincti, Halictus punctatissimus, Andrena fuscipes, A. argentata, A. lucens; Lepidoptera, Fox Moth (Lasiocampa rubi), Saturnia pavonia, Heath Rustic (Agrotis agathina), True Lover's Knot (A. porphyrea). Gray Rustic Noctua neglecta), etc.; several Heteroptera, Myrmus miri-formis, Berytus crassipes, Nysius lineatus, Ischnorhynchus geminatus, Ischnocoris angustulus, Macrodema micropterum, Scolopostethus decoratus, etc.; Homoptera, Cixius similis, Ulopa reticulata, Athysanus russeolus, Rhinocola ericoe.
Erica, Dioscorides, is from the Greek ereike, heath, and Tetralix from the arrangement of the leaves in fours.
The Cross-leaved Heath is called Bell-heath, Bell-heather, Broom-heath, Cat-heather, Crow Ling, Grig, Hather, Heath, Bell, Besom, Broom, Father-of-Heath, Heather Bell, Carlin, Ringe Heather, Honey Bottle, Ling. This plant was called Ringe Heather because it was used for making rings or wisps made of Heather. Though called Besom Heather in Ray's day it was not used for besoms, "that ever I saw, nor is fit for such a use".
It was especially burnt on the eve of All Saints' Day as a bonfire.
"On All Saints' Day bare is the place where the heath is burnt, The plough is in the furrow, the ox at work."
Essential Specific Characters: 194. Erica Tetralix, L. - Shrub, stem branched below, simple above, leaves 4 in a whorl, fringed, lanceolate, downy above and on the midrib, flowers rose colour, drooping, umbellate, terminal, sepals linear, downy, ovary downy.