These varied beauties are, however, familiar to the reader, and I will, therefore, only lay before him the descriptive lines of Mrs. Grant, of Laggan, before I enter into the drier botanical details relating to the differences of the species.
"Flower of the waste! the heath-fowl shuns For thee the brake and tangled wood;
To thy protecting shade she runs, Thy tender buds supply her food;
Her young forsake her downy plumes,
To rest upon thy opening blooms.
Flower of the desert* though thou art!
The deer that range the mountain free, The graceful doe, the stately hart,
Their food and shelter seek from thee; The bee, thy earliest blossom greets, And draws from thee her choicest sweets.
Gem of the heath! whose modest bloom,
Sheds beauty o'er the ample moor, Though thou dispense no rich perfume,
Nor yet with splendid tints allure, Both valour's crest and beauty's bower, Oft hast thou decked a favourite flower.
* I really must protest against the application, even in poetry, of the word desert, to spots clothed with such vigorous vegetation; it is almost as anomalous as the American name of "Pine barrens," as applied to the majestic pine woods of the Southern States!
Flower of the wild! whose purple hue Adorns the dusky mountain's side;
Not the gay hues of Iris' bow Nor garden's artful varied pride,
With all its wealth of sweets, could cheer,
Like thee, the hardy mountaineer.
Flower of his heart! thy fragrance mild, Of peace, of freedom, seems to breathe;
To pluck thy blossoms in the wild, And deck his bonnet with the wreath,
Where dwelt of old his rustic sires,
Is all his simple wish requires.
Flower of his dear-loved, native land!
Alas! when distant, far more dear! When he, from some cold foreign strand,
Looks homeward through the blinding tear, How must his aching heart deplore That home, and thee, he sees no more!"
In Great Britain we have seven species of heather, including six Ericas and one ling, or Calluna. The last of which, G. vulgaris, is so well known from the distinguishing circumstance of its having an open, bell-shaped flower, with a calyx of a similar colour. The cross-leaved heath (E. tetralix), and the fine-leaved heath (E. cinerea), are everywhere abundant. The Mediterranean heath (E. Mediterranea), has as yet been discovered only on Urrisbeg mountain, Conne-mara, in Ireland, where it was found about twenty years ago by Mr. Mackay in this place; it covers a space of about half a mile in length, and is supposed altogether to extend over about two acres of land.
The so-called Cornish heath (E. vagans), which is our only Erica with a campanulate blossom, occurs on the heaths of Cornwall, and was long supposed to be confined to the serpentine formation; but Miss Warren communicated to Sir W. J. Hooker its oc-currence in the parish of Mylor, "far from any ser-pentine;" a circumstance which, as she remarks, gives to that parish the distinguishing feature of being the only one amongst the eleven thousand seven hundred parishes of England that produces all our known species and varieties of heath.
The occurrence in our islands of these two heaths has been accounted for by the supposition that the first, which is so abundant in Southern Spain, was introduced by the Spanish colonists; while the last is believed, in like manner, to have been brought from Spain and Portugal by some early settlers, or traders in tin; but however plausible these speculations may, at first sight, appear, they are rendered as unnecessary, as they are improbable, by a consideration of the broader principles govern-ing the distribution of plants.* As well might we argue a former occupation of the Hebrides, or the broken shores of Connemara, by some early North America Indian tribe, because those places, respec-tively, possess specimens of the jointed pipe-wort (Eriocaulon septanguldre), a New World plant, which has reached us through Iceland, and the Faroe and Shetland Isles. The heaths in question are, in fact, only a portion of those plants which be-long to the "Atlantic type "of Watson; the "Lusi-tanian," or "Western Pyrenean," and the "Armori-can" types of Professor E. Forbes, which - in con-sequence of climatal and other peculiarities - are respectively represented in the vegetation of certain British districts.
* Effect of ocean currents, etc.
Similar remarks will apply to the occurrence of the beautiful ciliated heath (E. ciliaris), which is frequent on the north coast of Cornwall, and is found near Corfe Castle, in Dorsetshire, as well as in the district of Connemara, and which is a native of Portugal, and also to the only British species which now remains to be noticed - namely, the E. Mackaii, for which but two stations are known - namely, Connemara and the Sierra del Peral, in the Asturias.* It is curious that the plant was dis-covered in these two places in the same year.
The English name of heath is supposed by Bicheno, to be derived from Eithen, the Celtic word either for furze, "or any plants of a similar nature/' though it must be allowed that the idea pre-supposes consider-able latitude of observation on the part of our ances-tors. While the botanical Erica is by some traced to the Greek word signifying to break, on account of the extreme brittleness of the plant. Calluna, how-ever, has a better foundation, being derived from a word meaning, as Sir W. J. Hooker supposes, either to cleanse or to adorn,† terms which we are, there-fore, warranted in considering as convertible in the language of the beauty-loving and refined Greek. It may be observed, that it is an error to separate the words heath and heather; we have heard intel-ligent persons divided in opinion as to what par-ticular plant constituted the heather of Scotland, one party affirming it to be the Calluna, and another either the E. tetralix, or the E. cinerea. Lightfoot, who paid great attention to native names, calls both the Cinerea and the E. vulgaris (Calluna) "hather," and of both, says Sir W. J. Hooker, "the Gaelic name is traoch" while to the same high authority I am indebted for the information, that after living and botanising in Scotland for upwards of twenty years, he had always understood "heather" "to be a generic rather than a specific name, identical with our English word heath".
* See Hooker's " British Flora." † Cp. Callunterion and Calluntirion.
Accustomed, as we are, in more southern coun-ties, to see the heath creeping as a low shrub over the surface of the earth, or, at most, only rising into tufts of a foot or two in height, we are surprised when the "minstrel of the north" celebrates the -
" Heather black, that waved so high It held the copse in rivalry".
Yet so it is; and not unfrequently a man may stand upright, and yet be invisible, behind a screen of heather!
Dr. G. Johnston has collected together, in his "Botany of the Eastern Borders," several facts re-lative to the legal enactments by which, in former ages, the "muir-burning," or heather-burning, was regulated. Thus, the Scotch parliament of Robert III., in the year 1401, passed a statute "to be ob-served through the whole land," that there should be no "muir-burning," except in the month of March, under a penalty of forty shillings, which sum was to be paid over to the lord of the land on which the burning had taken place. This edict, in a some-what different form, was renewed by a parliament of James I. of Scotland, in the year 1424, which inflicted a like penalty, or four days' imprisonment, for burning the heather from March until the corn was cut down. There can be little doubt that the objection to the burning it in the spring and early summer consisted in the consequent destruction and waste of the young and tender grass which springs round its roots; but when the prohibition is con-tinued to the time of harvest, we cannot but sup-pose it to have been prompted by the belief that any extensive fire will produce rain.*
* For further information on this subject see "Notes and Queries" (passim), which contains several interesting papers relating to the burning of fern, which has at different times been forbidden on account of its causing rain. Dr. G. John-ston states that he finds the idea still prevalent in Berwickshire.