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Flowering Calluna vulgaris
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Subfamily: Ericoideae
Tribe: Ericeae
Genus: Calluna
C. vulgaris
Binomial name
Calluna vulgaris
(L.) Hull

Calluna vulgaris, common heather, ling, or simply heather,[1] is the sole species in the genus Calluna in the flowering plant family Ericaceae. It is a low-growing evergreen shrub growing to 20 to 50 centimetres (8 to 20 in) tall, or rarely to 1 metre (40 in) and taller,[2] and is found widely in Europe and Asia Minor on acidic soils in open sunny situations and in moderate shade.

It is the dominant plant in most heathland and moorland in Europe, and in some bog vegetation and acidic pine and oak woodland. It is tolerant of grazing and regenerates following occasional burning, and is often managed in nature reserves and grouse moors by sheep or cattle grazing, and also by light burning.



Calluna has small-scale leaves (less than 2–3 mm long) borne in opposite and decussate pairs, whereas those of Erica are generally larger and in whorls of 3–4, sometimes 5.[3] It flowers from July to September.[4]: 231  In wild plants these are normally mauve, but white-flowered plants also occur occasionally. They are terminal in racemes with sepal-like bracts at the base with a superior ovary, the fruit a capsule.[5] Unlike Erica, Calluna sometimes sports double flowers. Calluna is sometimes referred to as Summer (or Autumn) heather to distinguish it from winter or spring flowering species of Erica.[citation needed]



Phenolic compounds in the shoots of Calluna vulgaris include chlorogenic acid and a novel phenolic glycoside, most of which are found in greater number during the summer.[6]

The nectar of Calluna vulgaris contains a megastigmane, callunene, that is inhibitory at naturally occurring concentrations to a common trypanosome parasite of bumble bees, Crithidia bombi. Koch et al. elucidate the mechanism of activity that results in the loss of the parasite's flagellum, leading to reduced infectivity, because the flagellum is crucial to anchoring in the insect gut.[7]



Calluna was separated from the closely related genus Erica by Richard Anthony Salisbury, who devised the generic name Calluna probably from the Ancient Greek Kallyno (καλλύνω), "beautify, sweep clean", in reference to its traditional use in besoms. The specific epithet vulgaris is Latin for 'common'. Calluna is differentiated from Erica by its corolla and calyx each being in four parts instead of five.

Distribution and habitat


Calluna vulgaris is native to Europe, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Azores.[8] It has been introduced into many other places worldwide with suitable climates, including North America, Australia, New Zealand and the Falkland Islands.[9] It is extremely cold-hardy, surviving severe exposure and freezing conditions well below −20 °C (−4 °F).[10]

Invasive species


The plant was introduced to New Zealand and has become an invasive weed in some areas, notably the Tongariro National Park and Mount Ruapehu in the North Island, as well as the Wilderness Reserve (Te Anau) in the South Island, overgrowing native plants. Heather beetles have been released to stop the heather, with preliminary trials successful to date.[11]



There are many named cultivars, selected for variation in flower colour and for different foliage colour and growing habits.[12]

Different cultivars have flower colours ranging from white, through pink and a wide range of purples, and including reds. The flowering season with different cultivars extends from late July to November in the northern hemisphere. The flowers may turn brown but still remain on the plants over winter, and this can lead to interesting decorative effects. Cultivars with ornamental foliage are usually selected for reddish and golden leaf colour. A few forms can be silvery grey. Many of the ornamental foliage forms change colour with the onset of winter weather, usually increasing in intensity of colour. Some forms are grown for distinctive young spring foliage.[13]

The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:



Heather is an important food source for various sheep and deer which can graze the tips of the plants when snow covers low-growing vegetation. Willow grouse and red grouse feed on the young shoots and seeds of this plant.[34] Both adult and larva of the heather beetle (Lochmaea suturalis) feed on it, and can cause extensive mortality in some instances. The larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species also feed on the plant, notably the small emperor moth Saturnia pavonia.

Formerly heather was used to dye wool yellow and to tan leather. With malt, heather is an ingredient in gruit, a mixture of flavourings used in the brewing of heather-beer during the Middle Ages before the use of hops. Thomas Pennant wrote in A Tour in Scotland (1769) that on the Scottish island of Islay "ale is frequently made of the young tops of heath, mixing two thirds of that plant with one of malt, sometimes adding hops".[35]

From time immemorial heather has been used for making besoms, a practice recorded in "Buy Broom Buzzems" a song probably written by William Purvis (Blind Willie) (1752–1832) from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.

Heather honey is a highly valued product in moorland and heathland areas, with many beehives being moved there in late summer. Not always as valued as it is today,[36] it was dismissed as mel improbum, "unwholesome honey" by Dioscurides.[37] Heather honey has a characteristic strong taste, and an unusual texture, for it is thixotropic, being a jelly until stirred, when it becomes a syrup like other honey, but then sets again to a jelly. This makes the extraction of the honey from the comb difficult, and it is therefore often sold as comb honey.

White heather is regarded in Scotland as being lucky,[38] a tradition brought from Balmoral to England by Queen Victoria[39] and sprigs of it are often sold as a charm and worked into bridal bouquets.

Heather stalks are used by a small industry in Scotland as a raw material for sentimental jewellery. The stalks are stripped of bark, dyed in bright colours and then compressed with resin.[citation needed]

Calluna vulgaris herb has been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally as tea for treatment of disorders of the kidneys and urinary tract.[40]

In culture


Heather is seen as iconic of Scotland, where the plant grows widely. When poems like Bonnie Auld Scotland speak of "fragrant hills of purple heather', when the hero of Kidnapped flees through the heather, when heather and Scotland are linked in the same sentence, the heather talked about is Calluna vulgaris.[41]

Purple heather is one of the two national flowers of Norway,[42][43] the other being Saxifraga cotyledon. It was chosen as a national flower on the basis of a vote of popularity in a Norwegian radio show in 1976.[43]

Calluna vulgaris is the province flower of the Swedish province of Västergötland.

See also



  1. ^ Matveev, Vladimir. "Ling – definition from". Biology-Online.org. Retrieved 2010-01-27.
  2. ^ Coats, Alice M. (1964). British Shrubs and Their Histories (1992 ed.). London, England, UK: London Press. p. 45. In favorable conditions, old plants can grow to the height of a man, and have hidden many a fugitive
  3. ^ Clive Stace, (2010) New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ A.R. Clapham; T. G. Tutin; E. F. Warburg (1981). Excursion Flora of the British Isles (3 ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23290-2.
  5. ^ Parnell, P. and Curtis, T. 2012. Webb's An Irish Flora. Cork University Press ISBN 978-185918-4783
  6. ^ Mahbubul, A.F. Jalal; David J. Read; E. Haslam (1982). "Phenolic composition and its seasonal variation in Calluna vulgaris". Phytochemistry. 21 (6): 1397–1401. Bibcode:1982PChem..21.1397J. doi:10.1016/0031-9422(82)80150-7.
  7. ^ Koch, H.; Woodward, J.; Langat, M.; Brown. M.J.F.; Stevenson P.C. (2019). "Flagellum Removal by a Nectar Metabolite Inhibits Infectivity of a Bumblebee Parasite". Current Biology. 29 (20): 3494–3500. Bibcode:2019CBio...29E3494K. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.037. PMID 31607528.
  8. ^ "Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull". Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 15 March 2023.
  9. ^ "Countries (or multi-country features) with distribution records for Calluna vulgaris in the Global Invasive Species Database". Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. Archived from the original on 2017-01-05. Retrieved 2016-02-28.
  10. ^ "Calluna vulgaris". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  11. ^ Simon Fowler (June 2001). "Biocontrol News and Information - Heather Beetle: from Doom to Boom?". PEST CABWeb. CABI. Archived from the original on 2016-09-07. Retrieved 18 July 2022.
  12. ^ "RHS - Find a plant". rhs.org.uk. The Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 8 March 2022.
  13. ^ "Calluna Subcategories". heatherworld.org. Heather World. Retrieved 8 March 2022.
  14. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Alicia' (Garden Girls Series)". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  15. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Annemarie'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  16. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Beoley Gold'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'County Wicklow'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  18. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Dark Beauty'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  19. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Dark Star'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  20. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Darkness'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  21. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Elsie Purnell'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  22. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Firefly'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  23. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Kerstin'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  24. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Kinlochruel'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  25. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Peter Sparkes'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  26. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  27. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Silver Queen'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  28. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Sister Anne'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  29. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Spring Cream'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  30. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Tib'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  31. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Velvet Fascination'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  32. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'Wickwar Flame'". RHS. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  33. ^ "Calluna vulgaris 'White Coral'". RHS. Retrieved 8 March 2022.
  34. ^ Moss R & Parkinson J (1972) The digestion of heather (Culluna vulgaris) by red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) Br.J.Nutr. 27, 285–296
  35. ^ Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides (1772), New Ed. (Birlinn Ltd, 1998) ISBN 1-874744-88-2
  36. ^ "Most people today consider it the best of all honeys, but this was not always so." Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Calluna".
  37. ^ Translated as "noughty honey" by William Turner: noted in Coats (1964) 1992.
  38. ^ "The Folklore of Heather". Tree for Life. Archived from the original on 2008-04-25. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  39. ^ Coats (1964) 1992.
  40. ^ Vogl, S; Picker, P; Mihaly-Bison, J; Fakhrudin, N; Atanasov, A. G.; Heiss, E. H.; Wawrosch, C; Reznicek, G; Dirsch, V. M.; Saukel, J; Kopp, B (2013). "Ethnopharmacological in vitro studies on Austria's folk medicine—an unexplored lore in vitro anti-inflammatory activities of 71 Austrian traditional herbal drugs". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 149 (3): 750–71. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.06.007. PMC 3791396. PMID 23770053.
  41. ^ Alexander Wallace (1858). The heather in lore, lyric and lay ...
  42. ^ "røsslyng i Store norske leksikon". snl.no (in Norwegian). Retrieved 27 May 2022.
  43. ^ a b "Norway's National Flower Explained - The Norway Guide". thenorwayguide.com. 2022-09-27. Retrieved 2022-09-28.