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Dorset Heath

Erica ciliaris

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Ericaceae (Heath)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Bogs, gardens, heathland, rocky places.

Pink, 4 petals
Bright pink, bell-shaped flowers held inside long spikes. The flowers themselves are each about 1cm in length.
The fruit is a hairless capsule. The capsule produces and bears the seeds.
The dark green leaves are needle-like and about 3mm in length. The leaves are in whorls of 3 (sometimes 4) around the branches.
Other Names:
Dorset Blue Heather, Red Heath.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Erica ciliaris, commonly known as the "Dorset heath" or "red heath", is a species of heather that is native to western and southern Europe, including the British Isles. It is a small evergreen shrub that typically grows to be about 20-50 centimeters tall. It has small, pink or white flowers that bloom in the late winter or early spring. The species is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscaping, it is also used for erosion control on sandy soils and for wildlife habitat restoration. It is tolerant of poor soils and dry conditions, and is often used in rock gardens and on slopes.


Dorset Heath (Erica ciliaris) is a beautiful flowering plant that is native to Europe, particularly to the southwestern regions of England. Also known as Dorset Blue Heather, this plant is a member of the Ericaceae family, which includes several other species of heather and related plants. Dorset Heath is a relatively small plant, growing to a height of around 60 centimeters, with small, needle-like leaves and striking purple-blue flowers that bloom in the late summer and early fall.

One of the most interesting things about Dorset Heath is its habitat. This plant is found mainly in heathland environments, which are characterized by acidic soils and a mix of shrubs, grasses, and other plants. Dorset Heath is particularly well-suited to these conditions, with adaptations such as fine root systems that allow it to access nutrients and moisture from the soil, and small leaves that minimize water loss through evaporation.

Despite its adaptations, Dorset Heath is currently classified as a vulnerable species due to a range of threats, including habitat loss, climate change, and invasive species. In the UK, where the majority of Dorset Heath populations are found, efforts are underway to conserve this species and its heathland habitat. One important initiative is the Dorset Heathland Heart project, which aims to restore and connect heathland habitats across the county of Dorset, providing crucial habitat for Dorset Heath and other species.

In addition to its ecological significance, Dorset Heath also has cultural and historical importance. The plant has been used for centuries for a range of purposes, including as a source of fuel and as a herbal remedy for various ailments. In some areas, it is also associated with folklore and mythology, and is said to possess magical powers or be inhabited by fairies.

Dorset Heath is a fascinating and important plant species, with a unique set of adaptations and a rich cultural and ecological history. By working to conserve this species and its heathland habitat, we can help to ensure that it continues to thrive for generations to come.

Dorset Heath has a number of interesting features that make it stand out among other plants. For example, the plant's flowers are bell-shaped, with five petals that curve back towards the stem. The flowers are arranged in clusters at the ends of the stems, creating a striking display of color in late summer and early fall. In addition to its purple-blue flowers, Dorset Heath may also produce pink or white flowers, depending on the specific variety.

Another interesting feature of Dorset Heath is its role in the ecology of heathland habitats. Heathlands are home to a wide range of species, including many rare and endangered plants and animals. Dorset Heath is an important component of these ecosystems, providing food and habitat for a variety of insects and other invertebrates, as well as small mammals and birds. The plant's fine roots and ability to tolerate acidic soils also help to maintain the health of heathland habitats, preventing erosion and nutrient loss.

In addition to its ecological and cultural significance, Dorset Heath is also a popular ornamental plant in gardens and landscaping. Its small size and striking flowers make it a good choice for rock gardens or borders, and it is relatively easy to grow in well-draining, acidic soil. However, it is important to source Dorset Heath plants from reputable sources and to avoid purchasing plants taken from the wild, as this can contribute to the decline of wild populations.

One of the interesting adaptations of Dorset Heath is its ability to survive in harsh environments with low levels of nutrients and water. The plant has developed a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi, which helps it to access nutrients from the soil that it would not be able to obtain on its own. In return, the plant provides the fungi with sugars that it produces through photosynthesis. This mutualistic relationship is an important part of the plant's survival strategy and helps it to thrive in the challenging conditions of heathland habitats.

Another interesting aspect of Dorset Heath is its role in traditional medicine. The plant has been used for centuries as a herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, including coughs, colds, and digestive disorders. The leaves and flowers of the plant are rich in flavonoids, which are believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. While more research is needed to fully understand the medicinal properties of Dorset Heath, this plant has a long history of use in traditional medicine and is still used by some herbalists today.

Unfortunately, like many other plant species, Dorset Heath is facing a range of threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, and invasive species. One of the most important conservation strategies for this species is to protect and restore its heathland habitat, which can be done through initiatives like the Dorset Heathland Heart project. In addition, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change will be crucial for the long-term survival of this and other plant species.

Overall, Dorset Heath is a fascinating and important plant species that has played a significant role in both ecological and cultural contexts. By working to conserve this species and its heathland habitat, we can help to preserve the rich biodiversity and cultural heritage of this region for future generations.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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