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Heather

Heather

Heather is the dominant species of open heathland.

Did you know that the open heathery areas consist of three species of heather? All three are widespread and common through the UK. They are heather (also known as ling), bell heather and cross-leaved heath.

Ling and bell heather are found on drier ground, while cross-leaved heath dominates the damper areas. None of these species can tolerate the very wet areas. All three can usually be found growing close to each other and are very common throughout the New Forest.

 

The heathers thrive on the sandy, nutrient-poor soils as long as trees and scrub are kept at bay. This can be done by grazing, tree clearance or burning. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, but the most commonly used and the easiest to manage is grazing, with some clearance if trees start to take over.  If the trees are allowed to grow, the heathers will disappear under their shade.

LingBell heatherCross-leaved heather
Leaf shapetiny scale-like leavessmall, pine needle-like leavessmall, pine needle-like leaves
Hairiness of stemA bit hairyNot hairyhairy
FlowersSpike of small pale purple flowersSpike of deep purple flowersPink flowers clumped at top of stem

Uses

Ling was used for thatching, basket-making, brushes and besoms, rope-making, bedding (with the roots downwards and the tops to lie on) and for fuel and wattle. The flowers make a satisfying tea and have also been used to make heather ale.


ID Tip

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Leaf shape, flower colour and plant hairiness will enable you to differentiate the three species.

Chris
Marshall
Ranger

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'Please leave fungi for other people to enjoy. Fungi are essential to the New Forest’s fragile ecosystem.'

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