Heather - prolific heath and moorland colour


Heather - prolific heath and moorland colour

There are six species of heathers native to the UK, and by far the most common and prolific is ling, which occupies lowland heath and vast areas of moorland, from Cornwall to the far north of Scotland.

Lings are tough, vigorous, resilient little shrubs, but they do require an acid soil to thrive. In Britain, acid soils are more widespread than alkaline soils, and can be found making up large areas of heathland, peat bogs and coniferous woodland, such as Dartmoor National Park, York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Brecon Beacons and the Cairngorms. There are a few heathers, however, that will grow in most soil types, acid or alkaline, full sun or partial shade.

Globally, heathers are a huge group of plants ranging from tiny, delicate cushions to small trees. The Latin name for this plant group is erica, which means "heath" or "broom". The name 'Heather' may come from the old Scottish word 'haeddre' which is seen as far back as the 14th Century.

Heathers' delicate pink flowers appear from August to October and are a contrast to the tough, wiry, sprawling stems they grow upon. Plants grow tightly packed together and can live for up to 40 years or more.

Historically, Heather has been used for many purposes, such as fuel, fodder, building materials, thatch, packing and ropes. It was also used to make brooms, which is how it got its Latin name - Callunais derived from the Greek word meaning 'to brush'.

In Scotland, heather is regarded as a national emblem - especially the rare white heather, which can be found growing wild but is much less common - perhaps that's one of the reasons it's thought to be lucky. Although it varies from year to year depending on weather, the best time to see the full beauty of Heather in Scotland is generally between late July and early September.

Further reading

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