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Portuguese Heath

Erica lusitanica

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Ericaceae (Heath)
Evergreen shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
3 metres tall
Gardens, heathland, roadsides, rocky places.

White, 4 petals
Small, white (sometimes tinged pink), bell-shaped flowers. Many-flowered. Winter flowering. 4 fused petals. Pink flower buds. 8 stamens.
A small capsule, up to 3mm in length. Approximately 100 seeds per fruit. A single plant often produces millions of seeds every year. Wind dispersed.
An evergreen shrub with feathery, hairy, light green foliage. The leaves are arranged in groups of 3 to (usually) 4 along the stems.
The flowers are scented.
Other Names:
Portugal Heath, Spanish Heath.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Erica lusitanica, also known as Portuguese heath, is a species of flowering plant that is native to Portugal and Spain. It is a low-growing evergreen shrub that typically grows to be about 20-30 cm tall. The leaves are needle-like and are arranged in whorls around the stem. The plant has spikes of small, urn-shaped, pink, or white flowers that bloom in late winter or early spring. The plant is commonly found in rocky, well-drained soils, and it is drought-tolerant once established. It is also used as an ornamental plant, and it is popular as a garden plant, particularly for rock gardens, low hedges, and ground cover.


Erica lusitanica, commonly known as Portuguese Heath, is a beautiful evergreen shrub that belongs to the heather family, Ericaceae. This plant is native to the Iberian Peninsula and is found mainly in Portugal and Spain. It is a popular ornamental plant in gardens and parks because of its striking white or pink flowers, which bloom from late winter to early spring.

Appearance and Characteristics

The Portuguese Heath is a compact, bushy shrub. It has small, narrow, dark green leaves that are about 1-2 cm long and arranged in whorls around the stem. The flowers are tubular and bell-shaped, with five petals that are fused together at the base. They are usually white or pink and appear in clusters at the tips of the branches.

The plant prefers acidic, well-draining soils and is tolerant of dry conditions. It can grow in full sun or partial shade and is hardy to temperatures as low as -10°C. The Portuguese Heath is a slow-growing plant and can live for up to 30 years.


The Portuguese Heath is a popular ornamental plant and is widely used in landscaping and gardening. It is often grown as a hedge or as a specimen plant in borders and rock gardens. The flowers are also a favorite of bees and other pollinators, making it a good choice for wildlife gardens.

In addition to its ornamental value, the Portuguese Heath has some medicinal properties. The leaves contain essential oils that are used in traditional medicine to treat respiratory infections and other ailments. The plant is also used in cosmetics and perfumes.

Conservation Status

The Portuguese Heath is listed as a "Least Concern" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, like many other plant species, it is threatened by habitat loss and degradation caused by urbanization, agriculture, and forestry practices. In addition, climate change and the introduction of invasive species pose additional threats to the species.

In Portugal, the plant is protected by law, and it is illegal to pick or remove it from its natural habitat without a permit.

The Portuguese Heath is a beautiful and versatile plant that has both ornamental and medicinal value. Its stunning flowers and tolerance of a range of growing conditions make it a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers. However, as with many plant species, it is threatened by habitat loss and degradation, and conservation efforts are needed to ensure its survival in the wild.


There are several cultivars of Erica lusitanica that are commonly available in nurseries and garden centers. These include 'Alba', which has pure white flowers, 'Rosette', which has deep pink flowers, and 'Variegata', which has variegated foliage.


The Portuguese Heath can be propagated by seed or by taking cuttings. Seeds should be sown in the spring and kept moist until germination, which can take several weeks. Cuttings should be taken in the summer and rooted in a mixture of sand and peat moss.


In Portugal, the Portuguese Heath is known as "Urze" and has a long history of use in folklore and traditional medicine. It is believed to have healing properties and is used to treat a variety of ailments, including coughs, colds, and fevers. In addition, it is said to bring good luck and protect against evil spirits.


In addition to its medicinal and ornamental value, the Portuguese Heath has symbolic significance in Portuguese culture. It is the national flower of Portugal and is often used in traditional celebrations and festivals. In addition, it is associated with love, friendship, and loyalty, and is often given as a gift to show affection or appreciation.

The Portuguese Heath is a beautiful and versatile plant that has a rich cultural and medicinal history. Its stunning flowers and adaptability make it a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers, and its conservation is important to ensure its survival in the wild.

Ecological Importance

The Portuguese Heath plays an important ecological role in its native habitat, where it forms dense thickets that provide shelter and food for a variety of wildlife species. The plant's nectar-rich flowers attract a range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and moths, while its dense foliage provides nesting sites and cover for birds and small mammals.

In addition, the plant's roots help to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion, and its tolerance of acidic soils makes it an important component of heathland ecosystems.

Traditional Uses

In addition to its use in traditional medicine, the Portuguese Heath has a variety of other traditional uses. Its tough, flexible stems were once used to make baskets, brooms, and other household items, while its leaves were used as a natural dye to color wool and other textiles.

In Portugal, the plant is also used in traditional celebrations and festivals, where it is often woven into wreaths and garlands or used to decorate homes and public spaces.

Conservation Efforts

To help protect the Portuguese Heath and other threatened plant species, conservation organizations and governments have established a range of programs and initiatives. These include habitat restoration and management programs, seed banks and conservation collections, and public education and awareness campaigns.

In addition, the Portuguese government has designated several protected areas that include populations of the Portuguese Heath, including the Serra da Estrela Natural Park and the Serra da Malcata Natural Reserve.

Final Thoughts

The Portuguese Heath is a beautiful and versatile plant that has a rich cultural and ecological history. Its striking flowers, adaptability, and usefulness have made it a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers, while its ecological and cultural significance make it an important component of its native habitat and culture. Through conservation efforts and public education, we can ensure that this wonderful plant continues to thrive and enrich our lives for generations to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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