The Ericaceae

IMG_2230IMG_2078IMG_2006IMG_3341IMG_3339IMG_3338IMG_3135IMG_3092IMG_3090IMG_3037IMG_2888IMG_2670IMG_2507IMG_2407IMG_2233IMG_2168IMG_2203IMG_2152IMG_2135IMG_2116IMG_2075Dora Amateis RhododendronHoward McMinn ManzanitaFragrant KalmiopsisWestern AzaleaWickwar Flame Scotch Heather

Rainbow Drooping Leucothoe





































I’ve talked before of my love of the Ericaceae, or as it’s c0mmonly known, the Heather Family. Here are some representative samples of it from my garden. I have more but I didn’t have good pictures of them so I left then out. And besides I figured this was enough. I’ll try to give a brief intro. to each plant and let you know a bit about why I think they’re valuable. They’re all different but have similar aspects. For instance they all have a bell shaped flower with five locules or “chambers” to their ovaries. Some are bigger than others, like the Rhododendrons compared to the andromedas. You may have to click on them to see them in large enough size to appreciate them and I hope you do so. They’re really worth it.

Starting at the upper left and working my way from left to right and then down is a Kurume Azalea called “Ward’s Ruby”. I love it because it has such deep red flowers in the spring. They cover the plant and light up the back yard where it’s growing. Beside it are some Furzy Heaths along the front walk to to house. They bloom in late winter at a time when not much else is blooming. In fact they’re starting now in December. They welcome visitors to the house with their gentle colors.

Next is an Enkianthus, a large growing deciduous shrub which has red veined flowers and turns some amazing colors in fall as you can see. Now where it’s planted it turns orange instead of purple. Go figure…. Beside it is the Salal, a common understory plant here in the Pacific Northwest that the Native people used for food and basketry. It has large purple fruit that isn’t that tasty but makes a good pemmican I understand.

This is one of the several dwarf Rhododendron varieties I have. Called “Bow Bells”, it has bright pink flowers in early spring and keeps a nice rounded form. I replaced another dwarf Rhodie with this one after it gave up the ghost. Even in my garden things do  die. Beside it is one of 4 Lily of the Valley shrubs I have. It’s called “Prelude” and is a dwarf that only gets a couple feet tall and has racemes of white flowers along the stems in spring.  Very lovely in bloom and compact in form.

Then come the Blueberries. Of course Blueberries are in this family, along with hucklberries, lingonberries, cranberries and other berries we eat. We have 7 varieties and get lots of fruit from them every year so far. I love it when they turn color in fall and are all red and purple. Lovely. Next is a large Rhodie called “Blue Peter” which was here when I got here and is a large flowered plant with a deep purple splotch in the center. Next is an “Anna Rose Whitney” Rhodie I planted and is finally blooming after 3 years in the ground. It’ll get about 5 or 6 feet tall.

Here is another azalea. This one is a Formosa, tho I don’t know for sure because it was already here when I arrived. It really shows itself off where it is in the rockery in the front yard. Next is a small heath called “Rose Glow” that has since died but I like the picture and the plant so I included it. I don’t know why it died but it just went one day and was gone. Sigh. It always makes me sad to lose plants tho it’s the way of the garden so I  get used to it. Beside it is a small Uva Ursi Manzanita, a ground cover found around the Northern Hemisphere. It has small apple like berries which is why it’s called a Manzanita – Manzan is apple in Spanish, so “little apple” is its name. They were eaten by Native people but aren’t that tasty and were used in pemmican like the Salal.

This one is a Mountain Laurel variety called “Raspberry Glow” and its flowers show why. It’s just starting to bud out here so the blooms are a week or two away. It’ll get 5 feet all over in time but is very slow growing so it’ll take awhile. It’s close to the deck so we can see it up close when it blooms. Another large Rhodie is next to it – a “Sappho” named for the  famous poet of Lesbos, it has a deep purple blotch in the center of a creamy white flower. Very nice and floppy like some Rhodies are. Next is another Lily of the Valley Shrub that gets large and has flame colored red leaves in the spring as you can see. It’ll provide a nice setting for the deck and a screen from the neighbors as well.

Here’s another dwarf Rhodie called “Ginny Gee”. It only gets about 3 feet big but has pure white flowers that cover the plant in early spring. This next one is a Satsumi Azalea that is grown mostly for its foliage which is tight and is used a lot in Japanese gardens for its formality and ability to withstand close shearing to form it into desired shapes. It hasn’t bloomed for me yet and maybe it will someday, but I don’t care. It’s lovely as it is. Last is another Lily of the Valley shrub called “Little heath”, a variegated form that has pinkish new growth and white flowers in racemes like the rest of them do. They don’t look a lot like Lily of the Valley to me but I can see the resemblance I guess…

Then there are two andromedas, or Bog Rosemarys. The first one, the “Blue Ice”, has small tight growth and flowers. The second is “Macrophylla” for its large leaves and flowers. Both bloom in spring with pink bell shaped blooms and stay very small. The final Lily of  the Valley shrub, called “Valley Valentine” has also gone away since the rats dug a tunnel around its roots and piled up so much dirt so fast that it was gone before I even noticed what had happened. It hit me hard as I love the colors in these flowers. I’m glad the cats are getting the rats now and hopefully we won’t have this problem ever again. Grrrr….

This one is another dwarf Rhodie called “Dora amateis” that gets about 3 feet across and sits at the corner of the front entrance where it can show itself off to all and sundry who come to visit. It’s covered with blooms as you can see. The plant literally disappears under the burden of the flowers. Next is a “Howard McMinn” Manzanita, a slow growing form from California  where most Manzanitas grow, tho some come up into Oregon and down into Mexico. It has these lovely little bell shaped flowers in the very early spring that you have to look for but are worth the effort. I’ve talked about this Kalmiopsis in another post so won’t do much here. It’s a special and rare plant that is native to the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon and is a dwarf that again covers the forest floor in a northern clime.

The Western Azalea is a West coast native that is the parent plant of many of the deciduous azaleas in the nursery trade, such as the Exbury hybrids of England. It’s got a wonderful fragrance and I can see why it’s been used with its creamy white yellow colors and lovely smell and form. I get to see that form in the winter. Then is the “Wickwar Flame” Scotch heather. It’s in its summer colors of golden green but in the winter it turns a deep reddish color tho not too much here in this spot because of not enough sun. It has lavender blooms in the summertime.

Last is the “Drooping Rainbow Leucothoe”. These plants love being wet and we usually dump all the water from cleaning the fountain here when that happens. It turns this deep shade of purple in the winter and has long racemes of white flowers in the spring, along with its arching form. It won’t get much bigger than it is now so will be a nice underplanting for the “Bloodgood” Japanese maple I planted next to it when a large Rhodie died this last year.

So that’s the tour. You can see there is a huge variety even in my small garden in the sizes and shapes and colors and forms of these plants. And I don’t have any of the huge tree Rhododendrons or the Madronas that cover the hills of Asia or the northwest respectively. They get to be truly large trees but most of the Ericaceae are small and are good ground covers all over the Northern Hemisphere and also are shrubs that do the same in the Southern parts of most of our country and elsewhere in the world. I’ve actually got a pretty representative sampling of the kinds of plants that are in this family. I have found them fascinating for many years and I’m so happy to be able to have this collection of all these different kinds. I suspect many of you in the north have at least a few of these plants in your garden, if not the same varieties then others that are similar. They’re ubiquitous all over their range and I for one am very happy about that.

Good Gardening to you!



12 responses to this post.

  1. What an amazing variety of heathers you have! And I love that you have them all marked with their own little markers….I didn’t know that all these plants were in the same family, so thanks for imparting all this info about them all to us. And for sharing the pictures!



    • Thank you so much for your comments. It is an amazing plant family isn’t it? I’ve been enamored of them for years and have been “collecting” them in my mind for a long time until I got this garden and could bring so many together in the physical realm. I had a fun time labeling them and wrote a post on it you might like called “Do Labels Make A Botanical Garden” a little while ago. I’ve been taking pictures of the garden since I started it and have a slide show that covers the growth of the garden and each of its plants. It’s a lot of fun for me and others too. All the best to you!



  2. Wow, Steve. Thanks for the beautiful gardening pictures. I am totally obsesses with gardening. I don’t think I have any Heather though… I live in Zone 6B so I wonder if they have it here. Anyway, this is hits the spot on a mighty cold winter day. Cheers!



  3. Posted by Cedar on December 17, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Hi, Steve,
    My comment is hidden in the photos………given how little I know about plants, it is very cool to see who is related. Thank you for the tutorial! C



    • Thanks for reading my post and for your comment Cedar, and it’s my pleasure to post this tutorial as you call it. 😉 I read your other comment too. It is cool to see how the plants are related isn’t it? You can see why this is such a favorite family for me with all that is in it, and I barely touched on some of them. There’s lots more…. Cheers!



  4. Your heather tutorial is outstanding. I have always loved heathers and admired them spring displays I see. However, I haven’t had an interest in growing heathers since I became a container gardener. This read tempts me to try a few plants of the smaller species and subspecies. Thanks so much for sharing your gardening wisdom. Best wishes for a happy holiday season to you and yours.



    • Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you liked my presentation. I could only show off the variety of the Heather family members that I have in my little garden. There are so many more and I would imagine that you would be able to find some varieties that would do well in containers in your garden. I wish you the best of luck with your gardening and a good Holiday Season as well.



  5. Your Love of Nature, Living Things, and People is giving you strenght to go on.
    Happy You in 2013 !!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 !!!!!!!!!!!!



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