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Irish Heath

Erica erigena

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Ericaceae (Heath)
Evergreen shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Bogs, cliffs, gardens, heathland, moorland, rocky places, waterside, wetland.

Pink, 4 petals
Deep pinkish-purple flowers with reddish-brown anthers. The flowers are borne in leafy, one-sided spikes. Flowers each measure about 6mm in length. The flowers sometimes appear in few numbers in winter.
The fruit is a seed-bearing capsule.
A compact shrub with needle-like leaves. The leaves appear in whorls of 4.
The flowers are honey-scented.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Erica erigena, commonly known as "Irish heath", is a species of heather that is native to Ireland and Western Scotland. It is a small evergreen shrub that typically grows to be about 60 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. erigena is hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to -10°C.


Erica erigena, commonly known as Irish heath or bell heather, is a beautiful evergreen shrub that is native to Ireland, Scotland, and other parts of Europe. This hardy plant is a member of the Ericaceae family, which includes other plants such as blueberries, rhododendrons, and azaleas.

Irish heath typically grows to a height of around 2 feet and has small, needle-like leaves that are arranged in whorls around the stem. The flowers are bell-shaped and range in color from pink to purple. They bloom in mid to late summer and provide a valuable source of nectar for bees and other pollinators.

One of the most interesting things about Irish heath is its ability to grow in a variety of habitats. It can be found growing in moors, heaths, and bogs, and can tolerate a wide range of soil types. This adaptability has made it a popular choice for landscaping and gardening.

In addition to its aesthetic value, Irish heath has a number of practical uses. Historically, it has been used to make brooms and brushes, and the wood has been used for fuel. The leaves and flowers have also been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including coughs, colds, and digestive problems.

Despite its hardiness, Irish heath is threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Peat harvesting, agricultural intensification, and urbanization have all contributed to declines in the species' population. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore Irish heath habitat, but more work is needed to ensure the long-term survival of this important plant.

One of the unique features of Irish heath is its ability to survive in nutrient-poor soils. This is due to its symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi, which attach to the roots of the plant and help it to absorb nutrients from the soil. In return, the plant provides the fungi with carbohydrates produced during photosynthesis.

In addition to its ecological and cultural significance, Irish heath also has ornamental value. It is a popular choice for landscaping and gardening, and is often used to create low hedges or as a groundcover. Its vibrant flowers provide a splash of color to gardens and parks throughout the summer months.

Irish heath is also an important food source for a variety of animals. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are attracted to its nectar, while birds such as the European stonechat and the meadow pipit feed on its seeds and insects that are attracted to the plant.

Conservation efforts for Irish heath include habitat restoration, invasive species control, and public awareness campaigns. In some areas, the plant is protected by law, and it is also listed as a priority species under the EU's Habitats Directive. Efforts are also underway to promote sustainable peatland management, which can help to protect Irish heath habitat while also mitigating climate change.

Irish heath is also important for its role in maintaining healthy peatland ecosystems. Peatlands are wetland ecosystems that are characterized by the accumulation of partially decomposed plant material, or peat. Peatlands play an important role in carbon sequestration, water regulation, and biodiversity conservation. However, peatlands are threatened by a variety of factors, including drainage, burning, and peat extraction.

Irish heath is one of the species that can thrive in peatland environments and help to maintain their health. Its deep root system helps to stabilize peat soils, preventing erosion and nutrient loss. It also contributes to the accumulation of peat by adding organic matter to the soil. In addition, Irish heath provides important habitat and food sources for a variety of peatland species, including insects, birds, and small mammals.

The conservation of Irish heath is also closely linked to the conservation of other heathland species. Heathland is a type of open habitat characterized by low-growing shrubs, grasses, and herbs. It is a valuable ecosystem for wildlife, including many species of birds, reptiles, and insects. However, heathland has been in decline in many parts of the world due to factors such as agricultural intensification, urbanization, and neglect.

Conservation efforts for Irish heath often focus on restoring heathland ecosystems and creating corridors of habitat that connect fragmented patches of habitat. This can help to promote the movement of species between different areas and increase genetic diversity within populations. In addition, conservation efforts for Irish heath can have broader benefits for the conservation of heathland ecosystems as a whole.

In conclusion, Irish heath is an important species for the conservation of peatland and heathland ecosystems. Its adaptability, ecological significance, and cultural value make it a valuable asset to the natural world and to human societies. Through continued conservation efforts and public awareness, we can help to ensure that Irish heath and its associated ecosystems continue to thrive for generations to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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