Iieatii, Or Heather , the common name of plants of the genus erica, which contains about 400 species, besides numerous varieties produced by cultivation. The greater number of species of heath are natives of western Africa, some are peculiar to the western portion of Europe and the Mediterranean, and a few extend into northern Europe, one of which is sparingly found in North America. "While some of the African species form shrubs 8 or 10 ft. high, those of northern countries are low, much-branched shrubs, seldom exceeding a foot. The small evergreen leaves are entire, usually revolute at the margins and in whorls of three or four, scattered or rarely opposite. The mostly drooping flowers are either axillary or in short terminal clusters; the calyx of four sepals, sometimes colored; corolla ovoid, globular, bell-shaped, or sometimes tubular, more or less four-lobed, and drying attached to the capsule; stamens eight, the anthers with two appendages at the back and opening by a chink; pistil solitary; capsule four-celled, splitting at maturity into four or eight valves.
The genus erica comprises species of great beauty, even the most humble of them being attractive, and is the type of a large order, the ericacoa; or the heath family, noted for the showy character of many of its genera, about 50 in number, including rhododendron, azalea, kalmia, andro-meda, and others well known for the beauty of their flowers and highly prized as ornamental plants. Erica is the ancient name of a plant, probably of this genus ; the Anglo-Saxon name heath is also applied to localities where the plant grows. Six species of heath are found in Great Britain, some of them covering tracts many miles in extent; heaths are so abundant, and so often form an important feature in the landscape, that allusions to heath and heather are frequent in prose and poetry. The species found in this country is the commonest of those of Great Britain; it is also known as ling, and is the most widely distributed of all heaths. A few years ago American botanists were greatly excited by the announcement that the heath, a plant heretofore unknown to our flora, had been found growing wild at Tewksbury, Mass. Many visited the locality, and for a while the question whether the Tewksbury heath was indigenous or an escape from cultivation was warmly discussed in scientific and other journals.
Subsequent discoveries of the plant in Maine, and its occurrence in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in the British provinces, leave no doubt that the heath is a native of the American continent. This plant was named erica vulgaris by Linnaeus, and many botanists still retain this name, while others call it calluna vulgaris. Its leaves, instead of being whorled as in the other heaths, are opposite ; its deeply lobed corolla is shorter than the calyx ; and these characters, together with the more important one, a different structure in the capsule, would seem sufficient to separate it from the ericas and entitle it to rank as a genus to which the name calluna (Gr. to sweep) was given by Salisbury. The common heath is of slow growth and has strong, slender stems; in some unusual locations specimens 3 or 4 ft. high are found, but upon the scanty soil of the moors it is seldom above a foot. When nothing else can be obtained, cattle and sheep browse upon the herbage of the heath; but it is not nutritious, and being powerfully astringent it unfavorably affects the health of the animals. Those who live where heath is abundant make it useful for various purposes; the branches are employed for thatching hovels and making wattled fences, and are even twisted into ropes; they also serve for making baskets and brushes of various kinds, a fact which suggested the generic name. Small fagots of heath stems are imported into this country in considerable quantities, and sold for scrubbing kitchen utensils and similar uses. The common heath frequently varies, and some of its forms are recognized as named varieties; the flowers are generally rose-colored, but they are found pure white and deep purplish red; there is a form with variegated foliage, another with double flowers, and several others are found in European gardens.
This and the Mediterranean heath, erica carnea, with its variety herbacea, are quite hardy near the city of New York; and probably the Scotch heath, E. cinerea, the Cornish heath, E. vagans, and other northern species, would endure our extremes of temperature. These plants are deserving of more attention than they have yet received from cultivators in this country; their low and compact growth adapt them to form beds by themselves, or to serve as an edging to borders containing other plants. The Mediterranean heath blooms in early spring, while the common species opens its flowers at a time of scarcity of bloom, July and August. The greenhouse species and varieties, usually known as Cape heaths, are almost innumerable; they possess delicacy and beauty of habit, which united with great freedom of flowering render them valuable for decorative purposes. The flowers are wonderfully diversified in form and tint, and will reward the care required to produce them in perfection. They are comparatively neglected in this country, but in England, where the climate is especially favorable, much attention is given to their cultivation, especial houses being frequently devoted to heaths alone.
Their roots, being exceedingly fine and thread-like, demand great care in providing them with a proper soil and in supplying them with water.
Common Heath (Erica vulgaris).