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No other plants offer the colorful, ever changing year round display of Heaths and Heathers. At least one variety is in bloom every day of the year. Heathers cheer the sometimes-tired late summer garden with their abundant flowers of pink, purple, or white, then lend accent to the winter blooming Heaths with their bright evergreen foliage of chartreuse bronze or red.
And as for the Heaths themselves, they bloom right through even our hardest winters, providing a touch or bright color to an otherwise gray landscape. There are no wrong combinations with Heaths and Heathers; their beauty in masses has given us the phrase "heather tones" for multi-colored things which blend together well.
Heathers are also great in containers! See our container of the month, Hallow's Eve for October 2011 integrating Calluna vulgaris 'Firefly'.
Calluna comes from the Greek word kallunein, meaning to cleanse, probably because the twigs were used to make brooms. Callunas have just a single species, C. vulgaris, but over 800 cultivated forms are in existence.
Flowers: Tiny bell shape flowers during summer in colors ranging from white to crimson. Bud-bloomers are flowers that never mature beyond the bud stage and because of this, maintain their color for a long period. Double flower forms have more petals, so they look like pearl-size balls along the branches.
Foliage: Evergreen leaves are feathery or sometimes scale-like. Leaf color can be silver, green, gold or variegated, and many Callunas change color in the winter, turning brilliant orange, red or chocolate. Several varieties have red, coral or white new growth in spring.
Some varieties you can find at Portland Nursery include:
Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman'
'Robert Chapman' – yellow-orange foliage becomes more intense in winter, mauve flowers Aug.
Calluna vulgaris: 'Allegro' – red flowers on green foliage July – Oct.
'Firefly' – yellow-orange foliage turns bright red in winter, mauve flowers late summer
'Kerstin' – grayish foliage turns lilac in winter, mauve flowers Aug. – Sept.
'Silver Knight' – the most silver foliage of any Heather, lavender flowers July – Sept.
'Spring Torch' – dark green foliage with yellow, pink, and red new growth, mauve flowers Aug. – Oct.
'Winter Chocolate' – gold foliage turns chocolate bronze in winter, pink new growth, lavender flowers summer.
Daboecia is named for the Irish Saint Dabeoc (Linneus transposed the o and e when formulating our present Latin system of naming plants and the misspelled version stuck).
D. azorica and D. cantabrica (shown below) exist in nature and D. x scotica is a man-made hybrid of the two naturally occurring forms.
Flowers: Bell flowers are the largest of all the Heathers to ½” long and can be white, pink, red, magenta or purple. Flowers are held in racemes above the foliage & bloom from June to October.
Foliage: Evergreen leaves are dark green and glossy and resemble a simple leaf more than Callunas or Ericas.
Daboecia cantabrica 'Alba'
Erica is from the Greek work ereiko meaning ‘to break’. Possibly because the stems break easily and possibly because of the medieval belief that it could be used medicinally to dissolve gall stones.
Flowers: Small bell-shape flowers can be white, pink, mauve, cerise, magenta or purple. Bloom-time varies per species.
Winter/Spring flowers: E. carnea, E. darleyensis (shown at left)
Summer/Fall flowers: E. cinerea (shown below), E. griffithsii, E. stuartii, E. tetralix & E. vegans
Foliage: Evergreen leaves look like tiny needles and can be green, gold or blue.
Erica carnea 'Springwood White' - Pure white flowers on mid green foliage Dec. – April
Erica carnea 'Bell's Extra Special' – Chartreuse foliage with pink flowers in winter
Erica carnea 'Vivellii' – reddish purple flowers on bronze foliage Jan. – April, foliage turns green in the summer.
Erica x darleyensis 'Furzey' – rosy purple flowers on bronzy green foliage Jan. – May, foliage turns green in summer
Erica x darleyensis 'Kramer's Rote' – Magenta flowers on bronzy green foliage Jan. – Apr., foliage turns green in summer
Erica x darleyensis 'Silberschmelze' - White flowers on green foliage Oct. – May
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Genus: Calluna CAL-EW-NA
Origin: Callunas span the whole of Europe, from the western coast to the Ural Mountains, expanding to North Africa & the southern fringe of the Arctic Circle. They’ve naturalized in eastern Canada from seed contained in packaging from early settlers.
Size: Varies from ground-hugging 2”x18” to upright 24”x30”
Culture: Sun, acidic, well-drained moist soil. Soils west of the cascades are acidic due to copious rain, but often drainage is a problem, so adding compost when planting helps. Callunas are tolerant to drought once established.
Hardiness: USDA Zone 5
Problems: Very few. Over watering and dense heavy soils can cause plants to rot or lose foliage in the center. Bugs and diseases are rare in Portland.
Genus: Daboecia, DAB-OH-SHE-A
Origin: Daboecia is found in coastal areas of Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and the Azore Islands off of the coast of Portugal.
Size: Vary from 8”x20” to 16”x28”
Culture: Sun, part shade, acidic soil, tolerant of drought once established, but prefer even moisture. Trim annually after bloom to keep foliage full.
Hardiness: USDA Zone 6
Problems: Can look straggly if not pruned annually after bloom.
Genus: Erica ERR-I-CA
Origin: Ericas encompass over 800 species originating from South Africa, Europe & Turkey.
Size: Most Ericas are low-growing shrubs ranging between 12” & 24” tall. Tree heathers (E. arborea & E. australis) are upright-growing varieties that can reach 20’ in their native habitats. In Portland we see 4-5’ easily, perhaps taller if planted in an area that is not too windy.
Culture: Ericas are happiest in sunny spots with well-drained, moist acidic soil. Several species will adapt to dryness, alkaline soil and partial shade. Prune annually to keep heathers looking full.
Hardiness: Varies per species from USDA Zone 4-9
Problems: Ericas suffer from heavy soils and can die out in the center or lose portions from root-rot. Amend with compost to help create good soil drainage when planting. Pests and diseases are typically not seen in Portland.