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.
Generally distributed throughout Western Europe as far east as Germany and N. Italy in the North Temperate Zone, there are no records of the occurrence of this plant in any ancient deposits up to the present. In Great Britain it is absent from Bedford, Hunts, Northampton, E. Gloucs, Mid Lancs, S.E. Yorks, as far north as the Shetlands. It is found at a height of 2200 ft. in the Highlands, and is native in Ireland and the Channel Islands.
Crimson Heath is an ericetal species like the Cross-leaved Heath and Ling, and more widely distributed than the former. Both extend sufficiently to give their name to the Heath formation, which is to some extent of lower elevation than that of Ling, which reaches generally a higher altitude. Both Cross-leaved Heath and Crimson Heath are found on commons, heaths, and moors in the south as well as the far north.
The Fine-leaved Heath has a similar habit to the Cross-leaved Heath and Ling. But in this species the leaves are three in a whorl not four. The stem is shrubby, the plant as a whole bushy, with woody, wiry stems, the bark being ash-coloured, and branched. The branches are opposite, bearing linear, spreading leaves, smooth above, transversely wrinkled, with a keel below and a furrow beneath, and smooth.
The flowers are deep purple, in dense racemes, in verticillate or whorled clusters, and terminal. There are 4 sepals, lance-shaped acute, and keeled, spurred. The corolla is monopetalous or tubular. It is remarkable for the fineness and smooth green of the leaves, and the deep purple spikes of flowers.
The Crimson Heath is about 1 ft. high, and is in flower from June to September. It is an evergreen shrub increased by means of layers.
The flower is similar to that of E. Tetralix, but sometimes horizontal, and the anthers have toothed appendages and not awl-shaped awns. The flowers are normally whorled.
The capsule splits open along the 4 valves, and contains many small seeds which fall out or are dispersed by the wind.
As a heath plant it is a humus-loving plant, and grows only on humus soil.
A moth, Gelechia longicornis, and several other Heteroptera, besides those that visit E. Tetralix, are found on E. cinerea, such as Seranthia loeta, Nabis boops, N. ericetorum, Allodapus rufescens, Orthotylus ericetorum.
Photo. H. Irving - Crimson Heath (Erica cinerca, L.)
The second Latin name refers to its greyish appearance. The names Bell-ling, Bent, Carlin-heather, Cat-heather, Crow-ling, Hather, Heath, Black Heath, Heather, She Heather, and Ling are applied to this plant.
As to the name She Heather, it is said, "This is the She Heather of the herds, who thus ungallantly indicate their opinion of its inferiority to the Ling".
It is much sought by bees for honey, which is of a peculiar flavour. Beer is made from it in the Hebrides, and malt is added to the heath-tops. It is astringent, but is not now used in medicine.
Essential Specific Characters: 195. Erica cinerea, L. - Shrub, bushy, stem wiry, upright, branched, leaves 3 in a whorl, keeled below with glabrous furrows, flowers crimson in dense whorls, raceme irregular, ovate, ovary glabrous.