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Erica tetralix - Cross-leaved Heath

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Ericales - Family: Ericaceae

Closeup picture of Cross-leaved Heath

Description

This perannial shrub produces small pink bell-shaped drooping flowers that are borne in clusters at the ends of its shoots. The narrow grey-green leaves are borne in in whorls of four around the stems - hence the common name.

Similar species

Bell Heather Erica cinerea produces darker pink bell-like flowers, but its leaves are borne in whorls of three. Common Heather Calluna vulgaris has smaller flowers and its leaves occur in pairs on opposite sides of the stems.

Distribution

Cross-leaved Heath is found throughout the UK. On mainland Europe this low-growing heather occurs from Scandinavia right down to the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Erica tetralix is reported to have been introduced to some parts of North America.

Habitat

Like other heather species, Erica tetralix is found mainly in acidic habitats, where it favours wetter places than either Common Heather, Calluna vulgaris, or Bell Heather, Erica cinerea.

Cross-leaved heath, Walws UK

Flowering Times

This short heath species blooms from June until September - even into October in some upland areas. We took most of these photographs on the flat moorland top of Llanllwni Mountain, to south-east of the Teifi Valley.

Erica tetralix flowers in close-up

The delicate flowers of cross-leaved heath are paler than those of bell heather, but otherwise the flowers are similar in size and shape; however, whereas bell heather prefers dry soil, cross-leaved heath thrives in damp, peat-bog areas.

Cross-leaved Heat, Marfield Wetlands, Yorkshire

Above: Erica tetralix at Marfield Wetlands in Yorkshore.

Top tip for identification

A distinguishing feature of Erica tetralix is the leaf arrangement of this plant: the leaves are set in whorls of four.

Erica tetralix in a boggy location  in Wales


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