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Characteristics of Tree Heath (Erica arborea) in the Wild

Tree Heath (Erica arborea)

Tree Heath or Tree Heather (Erica arborea) is a species of flowering plant in the heather family Ericaceae, native to the Mediterranean Basin and Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania in East Africa.

The wood, known as ‘Briar Root’, is very hard and heat resistant, and is used to make smoking pipes as it does not affect the aroma of the tobacco. The wood is also used to make jewelry, pens, and tool handles. Leaf fossils associated with this species were described for the Mio-Pleistocene deposits of São Jorge on Madeira Island.

There are isolated populations in Africa including the Ethiopian Highlands, the Ruwenzori Mountains, and the Cameroon Mountains. In Africa, it is usually referred to as Giant Heather. This plant originates from the maquis thickets that surround the Mediterranean Basin north of Bulgaria and west to Portugal as well as the Canary Islands and Madeira. Naturalized populations occur in southeastern Australia.

Several cultivars and hybrids have been developed for use as ornamental plants in gardens. The following have been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:

  • Erica arborea var. Alps
  • Erica arborea var. alpina f. aureifolia ‘Albert’s Gold’ (gold-leaved)
  • Erica arborea ‘Estrella Gold’ (gold-tipped leaves)
  • Erica arborea ‘Golden Tips’ (Erica arborea × Erica lusitanica)

Other species also used as ornamentals include Portugal Heath (Erica lusitanica) and Channel Heath (Erica canaliculata) sometimes also called Tree Heath.

Synonyms used to refer to Erica arborea in scientific journals include:

  • Erica riojana
  • Erica procera
  • Erica arborea var. rupestris
  • Erica arborea subsp. riojana
  • Ericodes arboreum
  • Erica elata
  • Arsace arborea


Characteristics of Erica arborea Leaf

Erica arborea Leaf
Source: jiri_danihelka

The leaves are grouped in one or two whorls and are very narrow, linear, hairless, and almost needle-shaped. They measure 1 to 3 mm in length.

Characteristics of Erica arborea Flower

Erica arborea Flower
Source: Josep Fracés Balaguer

The flowers are produced in large numbers, in the form of small umbellate flowers with two or three flowers spreading into the leaf axils of the branches. It is white or pink, long-stemmed, with a stalk equipped with two or three small bracts, a split bell-shaped corolla with four or five broad lobes, with eight stamens.

The flowers bloom from February or March to July or August, depending on location.

Characteristics of Erica arborea Fruit

Erica arborea Fruit
Source: jiri_danihelka

The fruit is hairless and opens in four valves.

Characteristics of Erica arborea Tree

Erica arborea Tree
Source: mercantour

Erica arborea usually grows to a height of 50 cm to 2 meters, although it sometimes becomes a small tree up to 7 meters in western Andalusia. The twigs have whitish hairs.

In cleared forests and rather cool and shady bushes, especially on soils without limestone (granite, quartzite, sandstone, etc.), from 0 to about 1,600 m above sea level. Erica arborea prefers valleys, ravines, rapids, and slopes with cool, slightly moist soil.

Benefits of Erica arborea Trees

The wood is very hard, heavy, and heat resistant, used to make smoking pipes.

Erica arborea is cultivated as an ornamental plant.

Erica arborea has a very important role in the rural economy, soil formation, etc.

In traditional medicine, Erica arborea has anti-inflammatory uses. Especially recommended for the urinary tract. This species has also been used to treat the effects of insect bites.

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