Notice

Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull.

Very variable, hardy, prostrate to erect shrub with green to grey leaves, to 3mm long, and racemes of white to red flowers in summer and autumn.  To 60cm.  There are many garden varieties.  [RHSE, Hortus].

Horticultural & Botanical History

Native of Britain and no doubt an ancient garden plant.

‘This well-known plant is especially the plant of the Highlander, and growing, as it does, in vast masses in its native districts, it would be strange if it had not been utilized in some way. We find that it is not merely as the child of the mountain fastnesses, associated with his country in all its legends and poetry, and almost as national an emblem as the bagpipe, that the Highlander values this little plant; to him it is something more than a mere badge of clanship; it furnishes him with much that is valuable in his daily life. As a herbage plant for cattle and sheep it is available when other supplies fail, and it is said by some French writers that the mutton of sheep fed on such pastures is of a peculiarly rich flavour, and that the wool is produced in very large quantities, Heather, or Ling, is used for thatching houses, for heating ovens, for making besoms [brooms], scrubbing-brushes, and baskets, for weaving into fences, for covering underground drains, and many other rural purposes. In the Western Highlands it is twisted into ropes, and the walls of the cabins of that bleak coast are formed with black earth and alternate layers of heath. Beds are also made of it, and in Pennant's time the inhabitants of the Western Isles dyed their yarn yellow by boiling it in water with the green tops and flowers of this plant. In some places leather is tanned in a strong decoction of heath. Bees are particularly fond of the blossoms, which give a peculiar flavour and a reddish tinge to the honey. Perhaps the most curious use to which the heather has been put is in the making of beer. A tradition seems very prevalent through the North of England, Scotland, and Ireland, that the former inhabitants of the country possessed the power, now lost, of brewing beer from heather: these former inhabitants are variously stated to have been the Romans, Picts, and Danes; and it is a common belief that the last of the Danes was put to death for refusing to divulge the secret of the manufacture of heather beer. A correspondent of Notes and Queries says: "Shallow receptacles of broken stone, partially calcined, are occasionally found in secluded mountain districts, and these are believed to be the ancient brewing-vats — 'Hibernicè Tualacta na Fenine,' viz. the cooking-hearths of the Fenians." The herb used for giving a bitter flavour to the brew seems to have been the Burnet, Geum urbanum. This plant was commonly used in recent times for flavouring beer before the introduction of hops; and more than one writer on the subject of "heather beer" says that in the island of Hay ale is frequently made by brewing one part of malt and two parts of the young tops of heather. Medicinally, the shoots of the heather are considered to be diuretic and astringent; and in Pliny's time a decoction of the leaves was considered a remedy for the bites of serpents. "The tender tops and flouers," saith Dioscorides, "are good to be laid upon the bitings and stings of any venomous beast; of these flouers the bees do gather bad honey." [English Botany, vol.6, p.44, t.DCCCXCIV/1866].

History at Camden Park

Listed in a handwritten note in an 1850 catalogue in the Mitchell Library collection, inscribed on the front Wm. Macarthur, 23rd Dec. 1854.  [ML 635.9m].  It was certainly grown in the gardens at this time.

Notes

Published Mar 30, 2010 - 03:46 PM | Last updated Mar 30, 2010 - 03:52 PM

Figured is the whole plant, small leaves and racemes of pink bell-shaped flowers.   English Botany vol.6, pl.DCCCXCIV, 1866.

Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull. | English Botany, vol.6, pl.DCCCXCIV/1866 | BHL

Family Ericaceae
Category
Region of origin

Europe to north Africa

Synonyms
  • Erica vulgaris L. 
Common Name

Scots heather, Ling

Name in the Camden Park Record

Calluna vulgaris 

Confidence level

high