Ericas (Ericaceae and Heathers) – Popular Shrubs for the Garden

Erica X darleyensis


The callunas are usually referred to as lings or heathers but their close relations, the ericas, which have given their name to the whole family (Ericaceae) are also known as heathers, or heaths. Whereas there is but one species of calluna there are over 500 erica species, although most of these are of little importance to the shrub gardener as they are tender, greenhouse plants from South Africa.

There is a wide range of hardy ericas, however, mostly from Europe, including the British Isles and, by choosing the right kinds, it is possible to have them in flower throughout the twelve months of the year. Like the lings, they make fine ground cover if planted fairly closely together so that they eventually merge. Heights range from a few inches to a maximum of about 2 feet with the exception of the ‘tree heaths’. There is a good colour variation and some differences in foliage colour.

Callunas may be grown only on lime-free soil, but there are one or two ericas that will grow perfectly well on chalky, or limey soils, which is a great help to the thousands of gardeners who have to put up with these soils. The same kinds will also grow on any other soil, so it is worth describing them first. The principal species is Erica cameo, about a foot tall, with rosy-purple flowers from December to April. There are numerous varieties of this, some, such as ‘Eileen Porter’, flowering from October onwards and bearing carmine flowers, others, such as vivellii, are even smaller. Colours include rosy-red, shades of pink, dark red, carmine and white.

Erica mediterranea The hybrid Erica X darleyensis is also lime-tolerant. It grows to 18 inches tall and has rose-coloured flowers from November onwards until March or April. It has one or two varieties, including the white-flowered ‘Silberschmelz’. One parent is Erica cameo, the other Erica mediterranea which is a good deal taller, at least 4 feet and in favoured places nearer 8 feet. It has rosy-red flowers from March or April, into June, so extending the season for these lime-tolerant heaths.

There is a wide range of others for lime-free soils, including several ‘tree heaths’ and the Cornish Heath Erica vagans which will reach 2 feet. As far as the lower-growing kinds are concerned pruning is best carried out after flowering. It consists in trimming the plants lightly after the flowers have faded. Less vigorous kinds need no pruning. All need a sunny site on well-drained soil and should be planted firmly.

14. October 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Herbaceous Plants, Plants & Trees | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Ericas (Ericaceae and Heathers) – Popular Shrubs for the Garden


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