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For other uses, see Erica (disambiguation).
Erica herbacea0.jpg
Erica carnea in flower
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Subfamily: Ericoideae
Genus: Erica

Over 700 species, including:
Erica arborea
Erica azorica
Erica caffra
Erica cabernetea
Erica caniculata
Erica carnea
Erica cerinthoides
Erica ciliaris
Erica cinerea
Erica cruenta
Erica erigena
Erica lusitanica
Erica mackaiana
Erica mammosa
Erica manipuliflora
Erica plukenetii
Erica reunionensis
Erica scoparia
Erica terminalis
Erica tetralix
Erica turgida
Erica vagans
Erica verticillata

Erica[note 1] /ˈɛrkə/,[note 2] is a genus of roughly 860 species of flowering plants in the family Ericaceae.[4] The English common names "heath" and "heather" are shared by some closely related genera of similar appearance. The genus Calluna was formerly included in Erica – it differs in having even smaller scale-leaves (less than 2–3 mm long), and the flower corolla being consisting of separate petals. Erica is sometimes referred to as "winter (or spring) heather" to distinguish it from Calluna "summer (or autumn) heather".


Most of the species are small shrubs from 20–150 cm (8–59 in) high, though some are taller; the tallest are E. arborea (tree heath) and E. scoparia (besom heath), both of which can reach up to 7 m (23 ft) tall. All are evergreen, with minute, needle-like leaves 2–15 mm long. Flowers are sometimes axillary, and sometimes borne in terminal umbels or spikes, and are usually outward or downward facing. The seeds are very small, and in some species may survive in the soil for decades.


At least 660 of the species are endemic to South Africa, and these are often called the Cape heaths, forming the largest genus in the fynbos. The remaining species are native to other parts of Africa, Madagascar, the Mediterranean, and Europe.

Like most Ericaceae, Erica species are mainly calcifuges, being limited to acidic or very acidic soils. In fact, the term "ericaceous" is frequently applied to all calcifuges, and to the compost used in their cultivation.[5] Soils range from dry, sandy soils to extremely wet ones such as bog. They often dominate dwarf-shrub habitats (heathland and moorland), or the ground vegetation of open acidic woodland.


Erica species are grown as landscape or garden plants for their floral effect. They associate well with conifers and are frequently seen in planting schemes as massed groundcover beneath varieties of dwarf conifers. They are capable of producing flower colour throughout the year. They can also be grown in tubs or window boxes to provide interest through autumn and into winter.[6]

Heather Garden, Ness Botanic Gardens


Plants of this genus are eaten mainly by the larvae of many Lepidoptera species, including emperor moth, garden tiger moth, true lover's knot, wormwood pug, and the Coleophora case-bearers C. juncicolella and C. pyrrhulipennella.

Some species of sunbirds are known to visit and pollinate Erica. Two such species are the southern double-collared sunbird and the orange-breasted sunbird.


  1. ^ The Latin word erica means "heath" or "broom".[1] It is believed that Pliny adapted erica from Ancient Greek ἐρείκη.[2]
  2. ^ The expected Anglo-Latin pronunciation, /ˈrkə/, may be given in dictionaries (OED: "Erica"), but /ˈɛrkə/ is more commonly heard.[3]


  1. ^ Scarborough, John (1992). Medical Terminologies : Classical Origins Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture 13. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-806-13029-3. 
  2. ^ Gledhill, David (2008). The Names of Plants. Cambridge University Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-521-86645-3. 
  3. ^ Sunset Editors (1995). Sunset Western Garden Book. Leisure Arts. pp. 606–607. ISBN 978-0-37603-851-7. 
  4. ^ Manning, John; Paterson-Jones, Colin (2008). Field Guide to Fynbos. Struik Publishers, Cape Town. p. 224. ISBN 978-1-77007-265-7. 
  5. ^ Shorter Oxford English dictionary, 6th ed. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. 2007. p. 3804. ISBN 0199206872. 
  6. ^ RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.