The share which the heather takes in the formation of peat in the Old World is well known, but its absence in the New, by no means interferes with the progress of this vegetable de-posit wherever the climate is such as to favour the very slow process of decay from which it results. Thus, in the Falkland Islands, though our common bog moss (Spagnum) occurs, it is not found in such large quantities as the amount of the peat deposit would appear to indicate; and heather, as we have seen, is absent; but the deficiency is compensated by the conversion of the grasses, a small myrtle, and the Empetrum rubrum, a species scarcely differing from our crow-berry (E. nigrum), into a peat as perfectly antiseptic in its properties as is that of the eastern hemisphere.† In the newest world of all, in Aus-tralia, a sort of neutral ground is established in the appearance and great prevalence of the Epacridece, a family which includes the two sections of the Epacris and the Styphelia, and is only distinguish-able from the heaths by the structure of its anthers, which are single-celled, and open longitudinally, while those of the heaths are two-celled.
Although, in North Britain, the heather-spray is more especially the badge of certain individual clans, and though the different species are distinctively borne by different families; - the ling (calluna vulgaris) by the Macdonells, the cross-leaved heath (C. tetralix) by the Macdonalds, and the fine-leaved heath (C. cinerea) by the Macallisters, - yet it was very probably at first, simply and generally a highland emblem handed down from bygone days, when perhaps, in the words of Scott, -
† See Dr. Hooker in Appendix to Sir J. Ross's "Antarctic Voyage".
"The heath-bell with her purple bloom Supplied the bonnet and the plume;" when the same wreath that shaded the dark moun-tain's brow, encircled those of all her hardy sons in lieu of a more artfully constructed head-piece, thus mingling both use and ornament. But, even now, the mountaineer may well retain as his badge a plant, which is so eminently serviceable to him in the economic details of his daily life. The heather-branches, freshly gathered, and arranged in such a manner that the elastic tips of the shoots form a level surface, constitute his couch, a bed such as that described by Scott:-
"Before the heath had lost the dew This morn, a couch was pulled for you On yonder mountain's purple head".
"The stranger's bed Was there of mountain heather spread".
Heather, in alternate layers, with a mortar com-posed of straw and black earth, forms the walls of his cabin; heather makes the thatch which covers the roof, and this again is bound down with a lattice-work composed of the same plant twisted into ropes; and heather, cut with the sods on which it grows, not only furnishes his fuel, but yields the very best known for the purposes of baking. Nor are these its sole domestic uses: in the year 1766, the Irish parliament awarded a grant of £700 to some persons who were supposed to have invented a method of tanning leather with heath, boiled in. a copper vessel. It had, however, been used in the Western Isles for this purpose, from time immemorial. These same islanders too, and the Welsh peasantry appear to have imparted to the great clothiers of Yorkshire a knowledge of the value of the plant as a yellow dye, with whom it has become an article of considerable attention and importance. It is carefully mown when in full flower, dried like hay, and made into ricks, or placed in barns until required.
The dye produced from it, though not so permanent as either weld or quercitron (quercus tinctoria) is of a far more brilliant yellow than these, or indeed than any other woollen-dye; while, if alum be used as the mordant, a fine, rich orange is produced. Moreover, as all good British housewives know, the heather, (especially the Erica cinerea, and the Calluna vulgaris) makes the best of brooms. The ling (C. vulgaris) is an admirable edging for garden-beds, and bears clipping, says Sir W. J. Hooker, quite as well as box. On the moors the sprays and blossoms of the heath furnish the grouse with food; and; though not particularly liked by sheep, it is frequently very valuable as a fodder when other herbage is scarce, being a corrective to the effects produced by their feeding upon turnips, so that where they are allowed to browse on it also, mischief seldom results from the succulency of those roots. The shepherds of Lammermuir, as Dr. G. Johnston tells us, consider the ling so superior to the other heathers, as a food for their flocks, that they most ungallantly term it "he-heather;" while the fine-leaved heath (E. cinerea), being considered as the most valueless, is as they fancy degraded by the name of "she-heather!" These Lammermuir shepherds, like others whose early childhood has been passed in following flocks through heath-lands, acquire a gait so peculiar that it is known amongst the Lowlanders as "heather-lamping".
I believe that, notwithstanding its astringent qualities, the heather is not now employed in me-dicine; though Dioscorides says that the tender tops are "good against stings of venemous beasts;" and Gerarde very mysteriously declares that they "have, as Galen saithe, a digestinge facultie, con-suming by vapors".