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Cornish Heath

Erica vagans

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Plant Profile

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

Pink, 4 petals
Pink flowering heath with dense leafy spikes of small globular flowers, up to 14cm (6 inches) long. Protruding chocolate brown anthers.
The fruit is a seed-bearing capsule.
A dwarf undershrub with needle like leaves in whorls of 4 along the stems. Evergreen. Common on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall.
Other Names:
Cornish Heather, Wandering Heath.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Erica vagans, commonly known as "Cornish heath", is a species of heather that is native to the British Isles, particularly in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. It is a small evergreen shrub that typically grows to be about 100 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. E. vagans is hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to -10°C.


Cornish Heath, also known as Erica vagans, is a beautiful flowering plant that is native to the southwest coast of England, particularly in Cornwall. This heathland plant belongs to the family Ericaceae and is closely related to heather and blueberries. It is a popular garden plant, valued for its striking colors, ease of cultivation, and ability to attract pollinators.

Physical Characteristics

Cornish Heath is a low-growing, evergreen shrub that typically grows to about 1 meter in height. It has small, dark green leaves that are arranged in whorls along the stem. The plant produces masses of pink, purple, or white flowers in late summer and early autumn, which are bell-shaped and about 1cm long. The flowers are fragrant and are an important source of food for bees and other pollinators.

Habitat and Distribution

Cornish Heath is endemic to the southwest coast of England, where it is found in heathlands, moors, and rocky outcrops. It prefers well-drained, acidic soil and thrives in areas with low rainfall and plenty of sunlight. In its natural habitat, Cornish Heath is often found growing alongside other heathland plants such as gorse, heather, and bilberry.

Conservation Status

Cornish Heath is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 in the UK. Its natural habitat has been threatened by changes in land use, such as agriculture, forestry, and urbanization. However, conservation efforts have helped to restore heathland habitats, and the species is now considered to be of least concern on the IUCN Red List.

Cultivation and Uses

Cornish Heath is a popular garden plant, valued for its attractive flowers and easy cultivation. It is well suited to rock gardens, heathland gardens, and borders, and can also be grown in containers. It prefers well-drained, acidic soil, and requires full sunlight or partial shade. The plant can be propagated by cuttings, and is easy to grow from seed.

Aside from its ornamental value, Cornish Heath is also used in traditional medicine. The plant contains tannins and flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. The leaves and flowers are used in herbal remedies to treat various ailments, such as colds, flu, and rheumatism.

Cornish Heath is a beautiful and versatile plant that is valued for its ornamental and medicinal properties. Its conservation status highlights the importance of protecting heathland habitats and preserving biodiversity. Whether you encounter it in the wild or grow it in your garden, Cornish Heath is sure to delight with its striking colors and fragrant flowers.

Cornish Heath is also known by its common name of "Cornish heather" although it is not a true heather. It is also sometimes referred to as "Cornish bell heather" due to the shape of its flowers.

The plant has been cultivated since the 19th century and has since then become a popular garden plant. It is especially well-suited for heathland and rock gardens, and its striking colors make it a popular choice for ornamental landscaping. Its ease of cultivation and ability to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies also make it a popular choice for gardeners.

Cornish Heath has been an important part of Cornish culture and heritage for many years. It is the county flower of Cornwall and features on the coat of arms of the former borough of Penzance. The plant has also been celebrated in Cornish literature and poetry, including the works of the poet and novelist D. H. Lawrence.

As an evergreen shrub, Cornish Heath is also useful for providing year-round interest in the garden. Its dark green leaves provide a backdrop for the colorful flowers in the summer, and in the winter, the leaves can take on a bronze or reddish tint.

In addition to its ornamental value and medicinal uses, Cornish Heath has also been used for dyeing wool. The plant produces a yellow dye, which was traditionally used in the production of Cornish tartan.

Cornish Heath is a beautiful and versatile plant that is well-suited to a variety of garden settings. Its cultural significance, conservation status, and usefulness in traditional medicine and dyeing make it a plant that is not only beautiful but also meaningful and important.

One interesting fact about Cornish Heath is that it is one of the few plants that is able to extract nitrogen from the air and use it to fertilize the soil. This process is known as nitrogen fixation, and it allows the plant to thrive in areas where other plants may struggle due to poor soil quality.

Cornish Heath has also been used in the production of honey. Bees that collect nectar from the flowers produce a light, fragrant honey that is prized for its unique flavor.

The conservation of Cornish Heath is important not only for the plant itself but also for the many other species that depend on heathland habitats. These habitats are home to a variety of plants and animals, including rare and endangered species such as the Dartford warbler and the nightjar.

To help protect Cornish Heath and its habitat, conservation efforts have focused on restoring heathland areas that have been damaged or lost to development. This includes removing invasive species, managing grazing levels, and planting native species to help restore biodiversity.

In conclusion, Cornish Heath is a beautiful and culturally significant plant that is valued for its ornamental, medicinal, and ecological properties. Its conservation is important for the preservation of heathland habitats and the many species that depend on them. Whether you encounter it in the wild or grow it in your garden, Cornish Heath is a plant that is sure to delight and inspire.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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