The Heath Family (Ericaceae) contains about 100 genera and 3350 species of shrubs, trees, and perennial herbs. They are distributed throughout cooler regions of both hemispheres. Many cultivated ornamental plants such as Rhododendron and Azalea belong to this family. Blueberries and cranberries (Vaccinium) also belong to this family. The regular flowers usually have a 5-lobed calyx and a corolla of either 5 lobes or 5 separate petals, with 5 or 10 stamens. The fruit is fleshy or dry, and usually partitioned into 5 seed-producing divisions. The “wood” of these plants is very dense, frequently resinous. The leaves are resinous too, and often glossy on the upper surface. Ericaceae are excellent for native gardens, particularly Western Azalea and Huckleberry.
Guide to Identify Presented Species of the Heath Family
LOW, MAT-FORMING SHRUBS, LEAVES VERY SMALL AND NEEDLE-LIKE
Cassiope mertensiana White Mountain-heather Dwarf, evergreen shrub, 5-30 cm tall. Moist sites, montane to alpine.
Flowers white, bell-shaped, 5-8 mm long, nodding, on 5-30 mm long stalks.
Leaves scale-like, thick, 2-5 mm long, in 4 vertical rows obscuring stem.
Phyllodoce empetriformis Pink Mountain-heath Dwarf, evergreen shrub, 10-40 cm tall. Moist, open sites, montane-alpine.
Flowers pink, bell-shaped, 5-8 mm long, with short, rolled back lobes.
Leaves alternate, needle-like, 5-12 mm long, crowded like a bottle brush.
LOW, MAT-FORMING SHRUBS, LEAVES BROADER
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Bearberry Evergreen, trailing shrub, 5-15 cm tall. Well-drained, mostly wooded areas.
Flowers pink, about 5 mm long, in clusters, the corolla urn-shaped, 5-lobed.
Leaves alternate, spoon-shaped, 1.5-3 cm long, dark green and glossy above.
Kalmia microphylla Alpine Laurel Dwarf, evergreen shrub, 5-20 cm tall. Moist to wet sites, subalpine and alpine.
Flowers deep pinkish-rose, 5-12 mm broad, with broad, shallow lobes.
Leaves opposite, dark green, glossy above, narrowly elliptic, 1-2 cm long.
LEAVES LEATHERY, WHORLED OR ALTERNATE, BASAL LEAVES LACKING
Chimaphila umbellata Prince's Pine Evergreen shrub, 10-30 cm tall. Dry, coniferous woods, foothills to montane.
Flowers light pink, waxy, 10-15 mm wide, nodding, few on raised stems.
Leaves in whorls of 3-8, narrowly spoon-shaped, sharply toothed.
HERBS, LEAVES LEATHERY, ALL BASAL OR ON LOWER PART OF STEM
Moneses uniflora One-flowered Wintergreen Evergreen herb, 3-15 cm tall. Moist woods, montane to subalpine zone.
Flowers white, single and terminal, nodding, fragrant, 1.5-2.5 cm broad.
Leaves basal, the blades almost round, 1-2.5 cm long, tapering to the stalks.
Pyrola Wintergreen Evergreen herbs, 10-30 cm tall, with naked stems. Mostly coniferous forests.
Flowers often several, nodding, pale pink to greenish-white, about 1 cm wide.
Leaves in basal rosettes, often leathery, shiny, elliptic to round or cordate.
TALLER SHRUBS WITH LEATHERY LEAVES AND SHOWY FLOWERS
Ledum glandulosum Trapper's Tea Evergreen, leafy shrub, 40-80 cm tall. Moist to wet sites, montane to subalpine.
Flowers white, 10-15 mm wide, many in dense, rounded clusters. Stamens long.
Leaves 1.5-4 cm long, elliptic-oblong, mealy below, with edges rolled under.
FLOWERS URN-SHAPED, SHRUBS WITH BERRIES, LEAVES NOT EVERGREEN
Vaccinium Blueberry Shrubs, 10-120 cm tall, with red or blue, tasty berries. Usually in mountains.
Flowers are white to pinkish, 4-6 mm long, nodding, rounded or urn-shaped.
Leaves alternate, deciduous, thin, entire or toothed, light-green, hairless.
Alphabetical listing with links to presented species of the Heath family: