Heather and Heath Flowers: Different Plant Varieties and Interesting Facts

Flowers such as heath and heather are not only important to the ecosystem and the wildlife which are provided with food and shelter, but also to us. 

These flowering plants provide a lot of color and a lot of joy in places which often look bereft in the harsh conditions they are adapted to live in, such as fell sides and moors, which often have a lot of severe weather and can be very dangerous on the wrong day.

We’re programmed to react to color emotionally, and the sight of flowers and sheer seas of color sprawling up hillsides, moors, and cliff faces will lift even the darkest of moods. This makes these flowers all the more important.

Heather flowers also add a lot of color to gardens, pots, balconies, and terraces as ornamental plants.

The plethora of flowers add tremendous color to any space, and this is how they can be seen for miles in their natural habitat. 

The heather flower is also known as the Queen of Winter, as they flower during some of the toughest conditions the weather can throw at them. 

There are at least 800 accepted varieties of the heather flower, and they are spread across the globe. They are grown as ornamental plants and hedges, providing a wealth of planting options which are nearly limitless. 

Like many plant genera, the heather is particularly difficult to classify, there are many types, subtypes, and varieties which can get mixed up. 

But what do you really know about heather flowers? How about heath flowers? Do you know how to tell the difference? What are they used for? What benefits do these plants bring? 

Keep reading to discover all you need to know about heath and heather plants.

Everything You Need to Know About Heather Flowers

The heather plant is part of the Ericaceae genus. The plant grows as a dwarf shrub, and is mainly used as ground cover, or very low-growing hedging to add structure to garden borders.

The symbolism of the heather flower can be found here, and the origins of the common name can be found here

Heather flowers have the scientific name of Calluna vulgaris, and the genus name Calluna comes from Greek, translating as “to purify”, and vulgaris is Latin for “common” or “widespread”. 

The heather flowers have a myriad of uses, and have been used for generations to make brooms, to stuff bedding, as part of roof thatching, and to make baskets. 

Heather plants are designed to spread with ease across harsh conditions, and each tiny flower can produce up to 30 seeds, which gives you some idea as to how you can get carpets of them!

It’s worth mentioning that when we refer to the heather, we can actually mean two different plants, the heather and the heath, and while they are part of the same plant family, Ericaceae, they are different plants entirely. 

What’s the Difference between Heather Plants and Heath Plants?

Heath flowers come from the Erica genus, rather than the Calluna genus. 

The Erica genus has around 500 species recognized under its name, and the Calluna genus has significantly less. 

Both are grown around the world for their displays of color, and need fairly similar conditions in order to thrive. 

Heather plants

Heather plants fall under the genus Calluna, which are extremely easy to grow, and hardly need any maintenance at all. 

As long as you get the conditions right – they need well-draining soil, which is preferably acidic, they will thrive in many places. 

Heath plants

Heath flowers are from the Erica genus, and grow in notably harsher, colder conditions. You’ll often hear them referred to as the winter heather.

The foliage is longer than those in the Calluna genus, and as you might imagine, these plants are extremely hardy, often flowering through the “worst” months of the year. 

Most heath plants aren’t suitable for very warm or dry climates, as this is the opposite of the conditions they’ve adapted to over the years.

Propagation, Care, and Maintenance

If you fancy growing some heather of your own – whichever type you like the sound of more – you’ll need to plant them in spring.

During the hotter days of summer, you’ll need to make sure to water your plants thoroughly. You’ll also need to prune them after they’ve finished flowering, as this will help them reserve energy for next year’s growth.

Mostly, these lovely plants will take care of themselves. They also do well on rockeries, depending on the variety. 

In their natural environment, heather plants provide a lot of shelter, food, and reduce pollution. Sheep, deer, and grouse all feed on this plant. The flowers also attract a plethora of pollinators.

While you can mulch heather, you should only do so as you’re introducing them into your garden. For most heather, they require acidic soil and will be extremely difficult to grow in other types, although some winter heather need neutral or even alkaline soil. 

They are not hungry plants when it comes to soil quality and fertilizer, so the less you baby them, the better they will grow.

While heather spreads easily, it also grows very slowly. This makes them perfect for pots, as it will take them a significantly longer time to outgrow their containers, unlike other plants. This also makes them a lot cheaper!

Varieties of Heather Flowers

There are three main subtypes of the heather plant: Calluna vulgaris, Erica, and Daboecia

Calluna vulgaris comes from the wilderness in Southern Asia, North America, and parts of Europe.

Erica is found in Europe, Africa, and Russia.

While Daboecia is mainly only found in Ireland.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the most common varieties of Calluna vulgaris and Erica, which you can grow in your own garden. 

There’s a type for nearly every space you can imagine, and quite a few varieties flower at different times of the year. 

Calluna vulgaris ‘Dark Beauty’

This heather produces beautifully striking ruby-red flowers in a semi-double form, which have the benefit of being long-lived.

‘Dark Beauty’ can grow up to 8 inches tall, and because it’s such a low maintenance variety, this variety is a favorite of many.

All kinds of pollinators love this variety as the flowers are easily accessible, which will attract a wealth of wildlife into your garden.

‘Dark Beauty’ needs full sun and well-draining soil.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Pat’s Gold’

If you’d rather have flowers which are much warmer, ‘Pat’s Gold’ produces bright orange flowers against a backdrop of bright golden-green leaves. 

It starts blooming in August, and depending on the weather, these blooms can last all the way through winter.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Jana’

This heather needs acidic soil in order to thrive. ‘Jana’ features dark pink blooms which grow tightly together in clusters, and produce a wealth of color.

Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ 

‘White Lawn’ is better suited for places with milder autumns, as this heather flowers from August to September in mild conditions, producing gorgeous white flowers.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Spring Torch’

This heather has the added benefit of changing foliage color depending on the season, while other types remain the same color. 

The leaves start off green in spring, tipped with yellows, pinks, or dark reds. In summer, they deepen to a lovely, dark and rich green. 

Between late summer and early autumn, this heather will produce seas of purple flower spikes. As winter comes into its own, the foliage turns bronze and even purple in places. 

This is a much taller heather at 14 inches high, and will tolerate very dry weather. The only thing ‘Spring Torch’ really hates is strong wind.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’

Also known as the Scottish heather, ‘Firefly’ produces purple and red flowers, though these can vary during the season. This heather can reach up to 20 inches tall, and attracts a lot of pollinators.

‘Firefly’ heather also makes a great cut flower option.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Alicia’

A taller variety of heather, ‘Alicia’ can reach up to 28 inches high, which makes it a perfect option for a bordering hedge. It does best in full sun, where you’ll get the most amount of pink flowers possible.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Roswitha’

If you’d prefer a heather with fewer flowers, ‘Roswitha’ is the heather for you. It still produces enough flowers to put on a display, just not as prolifically as other types. 

It flowers from September until January, in a range of colors including pink, red, and lilac. 

Calluna vulgaris ‘Alexandra’ 

‘Alexandra’ is a type of heather that needs acidic soil in order to grow well. It produces bright pink and white blooms, and gets to a maximum of 25 inches tall.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Aphrodite’

A smaller variety, ‘Aphrodite’ reaches around 12 inches high, and needs full sun in order to produce its vivid red flowers. 

This one needs a little more maintenance, where it needs a yearly pruning, and requires acidic soil in order to grow properly. 

Calluna vulgaris ‘Kinlochruel’

‘Kinlochruel’ is only one of two heathers which produces white blooms in a double-flowered shape from August until October, where it puts on a fantastic display. 

Calluna vulgaris ‘Goldsworth Crimson’

‘Goldsworth Crimson’ is a great option for ground cover, as it only gets to 5 inches tall. 

It produces flowers from September until November, and needs a yearly pruning in order to produce as many flowers the following year as possible. 

Calluna vulgaris ‘Purple’

‘Purple’ heather is one of the most striking varieties, as the purple flowers contrast well against the vivid green of the foliage. 

It has the added benefit of blooming twice a year, and gets to a maximum of 28 inches tall.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Wickwar Flame’

‘Wickwar Flame’ is a prolific grower which will produce new growth through every season, and features yellow and orange leaves during the summer months, and these deepen to red in winter.

This heather needs full sunlight in order to get the best out of it, where it will get to a maximum of 15 inches tall.

Varieties of Heath Flowers

Erica carnea ‘Anne Sparks’

‘Anne Sparks’ has the lovely combination of red foliage and bright pink flowers, though it only usually blooms once a year. 

If you want an option for a shadier spot in your garden, ‘Anne Sparks’ is for you, as it cannot stand direct sunlight. It will also grow to a maximum height of 6 inches.

Erica carnea ‘Wintersonne’ 

Also known as ‘Winter Heath’ or ‘Alpine Heath’, this is one of the hardiest heath plants available, and has the benefit of not needing to be pruned. 

‘Wintersonne’ produces gorgeous purple to pink flowers with dark, almost black tips in winter, and will flower despite the harshest conditions the season can throw at it. 

To get the best out of this plant, it needs to be in a sunny position, and the roots need somewhere where they can spread, as compacted roots can hamper this plant’s growth.

Erica carnea ‘Pink Spangle’

‘Pink Spangle’ looks a little similar to ‘Wintersonne’, but the flowers are a much lighter pink. 

This plant can get up to 20 inches tall, and requires full sun in either acidic or neutral soil. 

‘Pink Spangle’ puts on a glorious display from winter until spring, and the flowers darken as they mature. 

Erica carnea ‘Bell’s Extra Special’

This heath flower is named after the whiskey, and you can see where the inspiration comes from with the whiskey-colored leaves, which are orange and gold. 

It has a neater growing habit than some other varieties on this list, where it doesn’t sprawl as much. It also produces pink tubular flowers. 

While pets can be attracted to these blooms, you should know that this plant is poisonous to pets, so it might not be a good option if you have a lot of furry visitors in your garden.

Erica carnea ‘Foxhollow’

‘Foxhollow’ is a striking heath plant which produces either pink or yellow flowers, creating a great contrast with the dark green leaves, which get even darker during winter.

This plant also grows up to 10 inches tall.

Erica carnea ‘Challenger’ 

This heath plant blooms in a lovely dark pink, with contrasting crimson sepals. It usually only blooms once a year from January until April, and grows to a maximum height of 7 inches.

Erica carnea ‘James Backhouse’ 

One of the more prolific bloomers, ‘James Backhouse’ produces lavender flowers later into the season. 

The plant itself can grow up to 6 inches tall, which can make a fantastic contrast against larger plants.

Erica carnea ‘Myretoun Ruby’

This heath flower also has heliotrope flowers, which are pinkish purple, and only flower until May. The plant itself can grow up to 8 inches tall.

Erica carnea ‘Pirbright Rose’

This heath plant features grayish green leaves, which contrast perfectly with the light pink flowers with dark tips, produced during the winter months. 

The plant grows to a maximum of 6 inches tall, and the name refers to a town in Surrey where this plant was introduced.

Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’ 

If you’re after a heath plant which will produce white flowers with dark red tips until May, ‘Springwood White’ is the variety to go for. 

It needs acidic soil in order to grow properly, and gets to around 10 inches tall. 

Erica carnea ‘Red Jewel’ 

If white isn’t what you’re picturing, a lovely deep red might be more your bag, which is what ‘Red Jewel’ produces in the winter. 

It’s also known as ‘December Red’, and it’s one of the earliest Heaths to bloom in the winter months. 

This plant reaches around 6 inches tall, which is perfect to contrast against taller winter flowers or to add some festive color into your garden.

Erica carnea ‘Carnea Aurea’ 

‘Carnea Aurea’ is a lovely heath that produces golden yellow leaves, and blooms in January until April with pale pink flowers.

It’s another smaller heather, which only grows to a maximum of 6 inches high, and the only real requirement this plant has is freely-draining soil.

Erica carnea ‘Eileen Porter’ 

One of the earliest blooming Erica carnea plants, ‘Eileen Porter’ is a very popular variety which produces red flowers from October until April. It gets to a maximum of 6 inches tall.

Erica carnea ‘Jennifer Anne’ 

‘Jennifer Anne’ requires acidic soil that drains freely. It puts on a lovely display from November until April with seas of pink flowers which turn darker as the blooms mature. 

Erica carnea ‘Golden Starlet’ 

This lovely heath produces lime green foliage in winter, which turns a bright yellow in the warmer summer months. From December until May, ‘Golden Starlet’ produces striking white flowers, and the plant itself gets to a maximum of 6 inches tall. 

Erica carnea ‘Praecox Ruby’ 

One of the most popular heath varieties, ‘Praecox Ruby’ produces flowers in a deep lilac pink, and flowers from November until May. 

The plant itself reaches a maximum height of 10 inches tall.

Erica carnea ‘March Seedling’ 

If you’re after a heath plant which will reach 12 inches tall, which will hold its own in garden borders but won’t get too tall, ‘March Seedling’ is for you. 

It produces light purple to pink flowers with dark tips. 

Erica carnea ‘Viking’

‘Viking’ produces a plethora of color in deep purples and dark reds, and though these flowers are absolutely beautiful, they only bloom from March until April. The plant itself can grow up to 10 inches tall.

Erica carnea ‘Snow Princess’

One of the most captivating flowering heath plants, ‘Snow Princess’ blooms from December until May with pure white flowers, and these can make a great compliment to snow on the ground during these months.

‘Snow Princess’ grows to a maximum height of 6 inches, which makes this an attractive petite option.

Erica carnea ‘Westwood Yellow’

‘Westwood Yellow’ flowers from February through until April, when temperatures are higher. The foliage creates a lovely display in itself, being a glorious yellow-gold. 

The flowers are a nice contrasting pink. ‘Westwood Yellow’ stays low to the ground at a maximum of 6 inches tall.

Erica carnea ‘Vivelli’

‘Vivelli’ produces stunning crimson red flowers from January to May, and the leaves are a bronze-ish green. This variety needs semi-dry soil to thrive, and somewhere in full sun. 

The plant will also benefit from pruning after the flowers have finished, to help promote healthy growth.

Erica carnea ‘Cecelia M. Beale’

This plant flowers from January until April, and produces bright white flowers which contrast well against the dark foliage.

‘Cecelia M. Beale’ needs acidic soil in order to get the best out of the plant, and they make perfect low-growing border hedges at 6 inches tall.

Erica carnea ‘Starlet’

‘Starlet’ produces coral flowers between February and March, which look perfect against the bright green leaves. 

This is a great option if you’d prefer other plants in your garden to provide most of the color, and for ‘Starlet’ to provide some evergreen interest outside its flowering months.  

Erica carnea ‘Springwood Pink’ 

One of the longest blooming heath plants available, ‘Springwood Pink’ blooms from December until May with fantastic pink flowers, and can reach a slightly taller height of 10 inches.

Erica carnea ‘Ice Princess’

If you like the idea of white heath flowers, but you may find the likes of ‘Snow Princess’ to be too white, ‘Ice Princess’ is for you. 

This lovely heath plant produces white blooms which have a hint of gold to them, and appear during February to April.

They also reach around 6 inches high.

Erica carnea ‘John Kampa’ 

A heath plant that likes direct sunlight, ‘John Kampa’ is useful if you have a lot of empty space that needs to be filled, as they reproduce very easily, but they don’t get very tall.

 The flowers appear from February until April, and bloom a pale pink.

Erica carnea ‘Isabelle’ 

One of the shorter heath plants on this list, ‘Isabelle’ gets to a maximum height of 5 inches, but has the advantage of blooming from November until May with petite white flowers, making a great backdrop against the bright green leaves. 

Erica carnea ‘Loughrigg’ 

An even shorter variety, ‘Loughrigg’ can get anywhere from 3 to 6 inches tall, and produce pink flowers from January through until May.

Erica carnea ‘King George’ 

‘King George’ produces deep pink flowers from December through until April, and spreads very easily. Keep this plant in a container if you don’t want it to grow prolifically. 

Erica carnea ‘Prince of Wales’ 

The ‘Prince of Wales’ heath plant produces lovely shell shaped flowers in pink from November until April. It also grows to a maximum of 8 inches high. 

Erica carnea ‘Orient’

One of the hardier heath plants, ‘Orient’ produces lilac and pink blooms from February until April, despite any adverse weather the season may throw at it. 

‘Orient’ grows to a maximum of 6 inches tall. 

Erica carnea ‘R. B Cook’

Flowering from December until April, ‘R.B. Cook’ really needs colder temperatures to get the best out of this plant. 

It produces lavender blooms which are heavily scented, and the plant itself grows to a maximum height of 8 inches. 

Erica carnea ‘Rosalie’

‘Rosalie’ requires acidic soil, but will reward you with soft pink flowers from January until May, contrasting well against very dark foliage. It can also reach about 10 inches tall. 

Erica carnea ‘Snow Storm’

One of the hardiest heath plants, as you might guess from the name ‘Snow Storm’. It produces white and pink blooms in abundance, creating a sea of color.

They bloom in the coldest months of December until March, and the plant itself grows up to 10 inches tall. 

Erica carnea ‘Rosantha’

While ‘Rosantha’ only has a short flowering season in March and April, the flowers put on a great display with their dark pink blooms. The heath plant itself grows to a maximum height of 6 inches. 

Erica carnea ‘Ruby Glow’

‘Ruby Glow’ blooms from January until May in the coldest parts of the year, and as the name might suggest, the flowers produced are a glorious ruby. They are both cold and frost resistant, making them great options to add color to the sparser months.

There are also two other Erica varieties that are worth mentioning:

Erica cinerea ‘Velvet Night’

Erica cinerea ‘Velvet Night’ is a captivating heather, which produces purple and black flowers, adding color throughout the year. 

It can bloom several times during the year, which is notably much more often than some varieties on this list. 

They do have the trade-off of needing to be pruned regularly after the flowers finish, and this will help encourage the plant to produce healthy growth.

‘Velvet Night’ is also used for its medicinal properties, and has received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Erica tetralix ‘Pink Star’

Erica tetralix ‘Pink Star’ produces lovely pink flowers from May, all the way through to October, providing your garden with a plethora of color throughout the year.

They need full sun, and it’s a rarer heather plant in that it needs warmer conditions in order to thrive.

It does need to be pruned once a year, but this is a small price to pay for a glorious display. 

Although these characteristics make this plant a perfect option for the garden, this variety is in decline. The more we can include these varieties into our gardens to establish themselves and reproduce, the better the variety will be safeguarded for the future.

Conclusion

While most of these heathers don’t reach a very tall height, it’s worth noting that they are often capable of spreading prolifically. 

Heather can eventually take over a border width-ways if left unchecked. But as they are slow-growing plants, you can easily keep on top of this.

Whatever type of heather plant you choose, it will add a wealth of color to your garden. 

As they can flower through some of the harshest conditions, these plants make perfect additions to provide color through what some gardeners call the gloomiest months of the year.

It just goes to show that you can add color to your garden year-round. 

With the help of a little imagination and some creative planting choices, your garden will also need very little maintenance through the leaner months, while still providing you with the benefits that gardens give us year round. 

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