Europe & Central Asia
Heather is a low growing perennial shrub that prefers acidic soils. It has small scale-leaves less than 3mm long, and in late summer flowers emerge that are usually mauve but sometimes white.
Heather sweeps across the vast moors of the Scottish Highlands, through Britain, Europe and into Central Asia. Heather is a woman’s name, a plant, or more specifically a flower. While the man’s name, Heath, refers to the entire field of Heather, a Heathland. The both come from the Gaelic, Haeddre.
In the 3rd century, a heart-broken woman who lost her husband in battle turned the purple heather flowers white with her tears. A few centuries later, the King of the Picts and his son died to protect the recipe of Heather Ale from the invading vikings. Heather covers 1/4 of the land in Scotland, and its life plays just as significant an emotional role as it does a practical one.
Heather grows in “poor” soil, which means the soil is acidic, too wet, and not good for growing crops. But sheep and goats can eat the plant all day. Heather likes to be nibbled on - it encourages more growth. In a garden setting, pruning after it flowers leads it to be more bushy the following year. A single shrub can live about 20 years, but Heather can dominate entire fields for centuries.
Following the Anglo-Saxon take over of Scotland, Heather was associated with rural poverty, and therefore not a “fashionable” flower amongst its rivals. It wasn’t until the 19th Century when Queen Victoria brought it back in style.
Each Heather flower on the stalk contains about 30 seeds, so one plant can produce 150,000 seeds in a season. For most plants only between 1% - 5% of its seeds will ever germinate, but some plants are better at spreading than others. So while Heather is naturalized in parts of North America and relatively harmless, it is an invasive species in Australia. It can dominate and push out native species that wildlife need to survive.