Calluna vulgaris

An ultimately unsuccessful search for a site where I could permitlessly collect some Gentiana douglasiana led me to the Tofino Airport on the west coast of Vancouver Island (the gentian was to be for a phylogenetic study of the Gentianaceae being done by Dr. Jim Pringle and colleagues). Like a few other sites in the Tofino-Ucluelet corridor, the naturalized Calluna vulgaris, or heather, was present in abundance.

Heather is native to much of Europe (e.g., the British Isles) as well as small parts of Asia and Africa. In addition to portions of Canada, it has also established in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. While the site of today’s photographs was a highly disturbed area, in New Zealand at least it has become a major pest of native grassy tussocks within some of their national parks (also see the Global Invasive Species Database). Contrarily, as noted in the first link re: British Isles, heather is in decline in part of its native range due to habitat loss and heavy grazing.

This low-growing shrub (typically to 50cm, rarely to 1m) is generally associated with acidic soils (like much of its plant family, the Ericaceae). It can be the dominant species in a plant community, such as the eponymous heathlands of Europe. Heather is a familiar species to many (vulgaris means “common”), with a long history of cultivation (hundreds of extant cultivars) and many human uses, including as a predecessor to hops in the brewing of beer. Perhaps that will be the eventual fate of these plants in the photographs, given the expansion of microbreweries regionally. It may be a novel way to distinguish one’s beers, though the Wikipedia entry does make the uncited assertion that a hallucination-inducing ergot-like fungus may infect leaves and thus contaminate the beer. Psychid-ale-ic.

Calluna vulgaris
Calluna vulgaris

3 responses to “Calluna vulgaris”

  1. Elizabeth Revell

    Yes, the heather in Tongariro NP around the Rangipo desert can be spectacular in Autumn: just a pity it’s in the wrong country! It was introduced to provide habitat in a “desert waste” for grouse, so the gentleman colonists could have their shooting … the grouse didn’t take. Pity the heather did!

  2. Pat

    I am pretty sure the story about “ergot” is a misunderstanding. Heather rust (Pucciniastrum ericae), powdery mildew (not sure which), Verticillium and Fusarium wilts and the genetically-variable endophytes (mostly Hymenoscyphus ericae and some others appearing like Leotiales) are the only common fungus associations of the aerial parts of which I know.
    I assume that the endophytes were compared casually to the ergot alkaloid-producing endophytes of grasses and Convolvulaceae and imagination took care of the rest.

  3. Robin Day

    I wrote a short note about heather introduction in Newfoundland, years ago, Osprey Magazine. It is mostly found in areas on the Avalon peninsula.

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