Heathers under threat

by Drucilla James

credit: Plant Heritage

Heathers, once a feature of almost every garden, are now facing potential mass extinction, according to recent research by the leading plant conservation charity Plant Heritage. More than 340 varieties of heather have completely disappeared over the last ten years and 60% of those remaining are officially threatened.

Even some once much-loved varieties – such as Erica Carnea ‘Mr Reeves’ and Erica cinerea ‘Lilian Martin’ – have vanished from nurseries and gardens.

Plant Heritage Plant Conservation Officer Mercy Morris said the plants are struggling with an image problem as they invoke associations with the heather and dwarf conifer beds popular in the 1970s.

Garden centres and nurseries are also failing to provide new inspiration, according to Morris. “Heathers are sold in garden centres almost as bedding plants in packs by colour, with little or no information. So there is little to pique the interest of the keen gardener,” she said.

Yet heathers are marvellous for attracting bees; they are low maintenance; and with their many varieties, they are able to provide year-round colour.

Heather is the common name for a large number of plants in the Ericaceae family including the three genera: Erica, Calluna and Daboecia. 146 Erica cultivars, 180 Calluna cultivars and 16 Daboecia cultivars previously listed in the RHS online Plant Finder could no longer be found anywhere in Britain or Ireland by the Threatened Plants Project researchers.

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