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Alpine Heath Erica carnea

Previously known as:

  • Erica herbacea
Phonetic Spelling
ER-ee-kuh KAR-nee-uh
Description

The scientific name Erica is said to be derived from the Greek word ereiken which translates to 'to break', referring to the late winter/early spring flowers breaking the grip that the cold seasons bring.  

A low-growing evergreen shrub or ground cover that is attractive year-round. Prefers sandy, acidic, well-drained soil.  It will tolerate alkaline soil, however the overall health of the plant will be affected.   It may be necessary to plant in raised beds to achieve adequate drainage. Avoid clay soils. If no alternative is available, improve the soil by adding peat or a coarse grit. 

This plant forms a dense mat over time and makes an excellent choice for slopes.  Plants prefer cool summer temperatures, so they are a challenge in the south. Some afternoon shade would be beneficial.

With over 100 named cultivars, the colors available range from white to shades of both pink and purple.  The most common cultivars are 'King George' and 'Springwood White'.

Prune it right after flowering in the spring to avoid leafless stems, by trimming to the base of the flowering spike.  Also after flowering, cut the leafy stems by half which will trigger branching out to keep the plant tight and dense.  Caution should be used to not cut back too far as heather has been known to have issues creating new shoots from old wood.  This plant can dry out quickly, new plants should be watered often and deeply.

It is in the same family as and closely related to Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris). 

Quick ID Hints:

  • Evergreen shrub with linear, needle-like leaves
  • Leaves are in whorls of 3 or 4, at 90 degrees to stem
  • Small, urceolate flowers** in leaf axils; anther protrudes

Evergreen, prostrate shrub to small shrubby tree. 

Bloom time varies with species (there are over 700), but is usually early spring to fall; some species are used as ground covers whereas others are shrubs or even tree-like; leaves are always needle-like and whorled and flowers are urceolate. 

Requires moist, well-drained soil with high organic content and low fertility, full sun to part shade; intolerant of hot, dry conditions or heavy pruning (into the wood).

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  No serious problems. Powdery mildew, rust, and wilt occasionally occur, in poorly drained soils root rot can affect this plant.  Failure to prune annually can result in an unsightly garden.

Proper drainage is a must for this plant.  Stagnant water will damage the health of the plant.  

Full sun should be avoided for cultivars with gold or bronze foliage, as they are more likely to be sunburned.  

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Bell's Extra Special'
    Gold foliage
  • 'Challenger'
    Pink flowers
  • 'December Red'
    Red flowers
  • 'Foxhollow'
    Gold foliage
  • 'Golden Starlet'
    Yellow foliage
  • 'Isabell'
    White flowers
  • 'King George'
    Compact and bushy. Deep pink flowers.
  • 'Loughrigg'
    Purple flowers
  • 'March Seedling'
    Purple flowers
  • 'Myretoun Ruby'
    Magenta flowers
  • 'Nathalie'
    Red flowers
  • 'Pink Spangles'
    Vigorous trailing habit, pink flowers
  • 'Porter's Red'
    Magenta flowers.
  • 'Rosalie'
    Pink flowers
  • 'Rubinteppich'
    Dark purple/red flowers
  • 'Schneekuppe'
    White flowers
  • ‘Sherwood Pink’
    Tolerates alkaline soils
  • 'Springwood pink'
    Pink flowers
  • 'Springwood White'
    White flowers, vigorous trailing habit
  • 'Tanja'
    Compact and bushy
  • 'Wentwood Red'
    Red flowers
  • 'Winter Snow'
    White flowers
  • 'Wintersonne'
    Rosy pink flowers
'Bell's Extra Special', 'Challenger', 'December Red', 'Foxhollow', 'Golden Starlet', 'Isabell', 'King George', 'Loughrigg', 'March Seedling', 'Myretoun Ruby', 'Nathalie', 'Pink Spangles', 'Porter's Red', 'Rosalie', 'Rubinteppich', 'Schneekuppe', ‘Sherwood Pink’, 'Springwood pink', 'Springwood White', 'Tanja', 'Wentwood Red', 'Winter Snow', 'Wintersonne'
Tags:
#evergreen#full sun tolerant#low growing#purple flowers#pink flowers#broadleaf evergreen#spring flowers#winter interest#slopes#mass planting#year-round interest#deer resistant#low growing plant#frost tolerant#long bloom time#rock garden#spring interest#pollinator plant#fantz#evergreen shrub#poor soils tolerant#evergreen groundcover#dry soils tolerant#winter flowers#winter garden#partial shade tolerant#clay soils intolerant#container plant#broadleaf#container#pollinator garden#bees#containers
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Bell's Extra Special'
    Gold foliage
  • 'Challenger'
    Pink flowers
  • 'December Red'
    Red flowers
  • 'Foxhollow'
    Gold foliage
  • 'Golden Starlet'
    Yellow foliage
  • 'Isabell'
    White flowers
  • 'King George'
    Compact and bushy. Deep pink flowers.
  • 'Loughrigg'
    Purple flowers
  • 'March Seedling'
    Purple flowers
  • 'Myretoun Ruby'
    Magenta flowers
  • 'Nathalie'
    Red flowers
  • 'Pink Spangles'
    Vigorous trailing habit, pink flowers
  • 'Porter's Red'
    Magenta flowers.
  • 'Rosalie'
    Pink flowers
  • 'Rubinteppich'
    Dark purple/red flowers
  • 'Schneekuppe'
    White flowers
  • ‘Sherwood Pink’
    Tolerates alkaline soils
  • 'Springwood pink'
    Pink flowers
  • 'Springwood White'
    White flowers, vigorous trailing habit
  • 'Tanja'
    Compact and bushy
  • 'Wentwood Red'
    Red flowers
  • 'Winter Snow'
    White flowers
  • 'Wintersonne'
    Rosy pink flowers
'Bell's Extra Special', 'Challenger', 'December Red', 'Foxhollow', 'Golden Starlet', 'Isabell', 'King George', 'Loughrigg', 'March Seedling', 'Myretoun Ruby', 'Nathalie', 'Pink Spangles', 'Porter's Red', 'Rosalie', 'Rubinteppich', 'Schneekuppe', ‘Sherwood Pink’, 'Springwood pink', 'Springwood White', 'Tanja', 'Wentwood Red', 'Winter Snow', 'Wintersonne'
Tags:
#evergreen#full sun tolerant#low growing#purple flowers#pink flowers#broadleaf evergreen#spring flowers#winter interest#slopes#mass planting#year-round interest#deer resistant#low growing plant#frost tolerant#long bloom time#rock garden#spring interest#pollinator plant#fantz#evergreen shrub#poor soils tolerant#evergreen groundcover#dry soils tolerant#winter flowers#winter garden#partial shade tolerant#clay soils intolerant#container plant#broadleaf#container#pollinator garden#bees#containers
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Erica
    Species:
    carnea
    Family:
    Ericaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Used as a ground cover.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Central & E. Central Europe
    Wildlife Value:
    Bees are attracted to the flowers.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Dimensions:
    Height: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 6 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Ground Cover
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Horizontal
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Description:
    A dehiscent, many seeded capsule.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Pink
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Raceme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Long Bloom Season
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Winter
    Flower Shape:
    Bell
    Urn
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Showy fleshy colored pink bell-to urn shaped appear January to March. ‘Sherwood Pink’ features urn-shaped, pure pink blooms (1/4” long) in one-sided racemes (to 3” long) from January to March. (1-3)white-pink-red-blue (yellow), urceolate, axillary, on short lateral shoots; anther exerted from corolla.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Whorled
    Leaf Shape:
    Linear
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Description:
    Needle-like medium green leaves with bronze tips 1/4" long and in whorls of 4. If pruning is needed, do it immediately after flowering. Whorled in 3's or 4's, simple, linear, needle-like, at 90 degrees to stem.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Patio
    Slope/Bank
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Pollinator Garden
    Rock Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Mass Planting
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Dry Soil