The arborea part of Erica arborea more than hints at its stature. It is among the tallest species in the genus, occasionally reaching heights of 7m (23ft.) as a small tree. Most of the other 860 species or so are shrubs in the 20-150cm (0.6-5ft.) range. It is with good reason that common names for the species include tree heath and giant heather.
A third common name is used, though more specifically for the wood. Briar, or briar root (or bruyère), is familiar to those who smoke with wooden pipes. It was supposedly an accidental discovery; a French traveler with a broken Meerschaum pipe asked a craftsman to fashion a pipe out of whatever wood was available. Briar wood was chosen, and it eventually became the most used material for pipes in Europe and North America, if not the world. Wood density, water absorption, heat-resistance, and beauty are all reasons it continued to be used after the first pipe was carved. You can read more of the history via Peter MacSween’s article in Canadian Woodworking and Home Improvement: Woods to Know: Briar or watch how pipes are made in A Pipe Story – The Art of Briar Tobacco Pipe Making. If pipes aren’t your interest, you can instead watch a video on making a bowl out of Erica arborea: tree heath bowl.
As alluded to in the story (myth?) of the origins of briar pipes, Erica arborea is native to areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Wikipedia also notes there are disjunct populations at higher elevations in equatorial Africa. There are also naturalized (invasive?) populations established in southeastern Australia.
For additional photographs of the plant, including some showing its general stature, see the Plantas: Beleza e Diversidade (Plants: Beauty and Diversity) weblog entry on urze-branca (Portuguese common name): Erica arborea.