winter heath

Erica carnea

Erica carnea (Winter heath, Winter Flowering Heather, or Spring heath; syn. E. herbacea, E. mediterranea) is a species of heath native to mountainous areas of central and southern Europe in the eastern Alps, where it grows in coniferous woodlands or stony slopes.

It is a low-growing subshrub reaching 10-25 cm tall, with evergreen needle-like leaves 4-8 mm long, borne in whorls of four. The flowers are produced in racemes in late winter to early spring, often starting to flower while the plant is still covered in snow; the individual flower is a slender bell-shape, 4-6 mm long, dark reddish-pink, rarely white.

The first published name for the species is Erica herbacea; however, the name E. carnea (published three pages later in the same book) is so widely used, and the earlier name so little used, that a formal proposal to conserve the name E. carnea over E. herbacea was accepted by the International Botanical Congress in 1999.

Cultivation and uses

It is very widely grown as an ornamental plant for its winter flowering; over 100 cultivars have been selected for variation in flower and leaf colour. Unlike most species of Erica, it is tolerant of limestone as well as acidic soils, making it an easier plant to grow in many areas.

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