HEATH, the English form of a name given in most Teutonic dialects to the common ling or heather, but now applied to all species of Erica, an extensive genus of mono-petalous plants, belonging to the order Ericaceae. The heaths are evergreen shrubs, with small narrow leaves, in whorls usually set rather thickly on the shoots; the per-sistent flowers have 4 sepals, and a 4-cleft campanulate or tubular corolla, in many species more or less ventricose or inflated; the dry capsule is 4-celled, and opens, in the true Ericce, in 4 segments, to the middle of which the partitions adhere, though in the ling the valves separate at the dissepiments. The plants are mostly of low growth, but several African kinds reach the size of large bushes, and a Spanish variety, E. arborea, occasionally attains almost the aspect and dimensions of a tree.
One of the best known and most interesting of the family is the common heath, heather, or ling, Calhma vulgaris, placed by most botanists in a separate genus on account of the peculiar dehiscence of the fruit, and from the coloured calyx, which extends beyond the corolla, having a whorl of sepal-like bracts beneath. This shrub derives some eco-nomic importance from its forming the chief vegetation on many of those extensive wastes that occupy so large a portion of the more sterile lands of northern and western Europe, the usually desolate appearance of which is enlivened in the latter part of summer by its abundant pink blossoms. When growing erect to the height of a yard or more, as it often does in sheltered places, its purple stems, close-leaved green shoots, and feathery spikes of bell-shaped flowers render it one of the handsomest of the heaths; but on the bleaker elevations and more arid slopes it frequently rises only a few inches above the ground. In all moorland countries the ling is applied to many rural purposes; the larger stems are made into brooms, the shorter tied up into bundles that serve as brushes, while the long trailing shoots are woven into baskets. Pared up
FIG. 1.Erica cinerea. FIG. 2.Calluna vulgaris.
with the peat about its roots it forms a good fuel, often the only one obtainable on the drier moors. The shielings of the Scotch Highlanders were formerly constructed of heath stems, cemented together with peat-mud, worked into a kind of mortar with dry grass or straw; hovels and sheds for temporary purposes are still sometimes built in a similar way, and roofed in with ling. Laid on the ground, with the flowers above, it forms a soft springy bed, the luxurious couch of the ancient Gael, still gladly resorted to at times by the hill shepherd or hardy deer-stalker. The young snoots were in former days employed as a substitute for hops in brewing, while their astringency rendered them valuable as a tanning material in Ireland and the Western Isles. They are said also to have been used by the High-landers for dyeing woollen yarn yellow, and other colours are asserted to have been obtained from them, but some writers appear to confuse the dyer's-weed, Genista tinctoria, with the heather. The young juicy shoots and the seeds, which remain long in the capsules, furnish the red grouse of Scotland with the larger portion of its sustenance; the ripe seeds are eaten by many birds. The tops of the ling afford a considerable part of the winter fodder of the hill flocks, and are popularly supposed to communicate the fine flavour to Welsh and Highland mutton, but sheep seldom crop heather while the mountain grasses and rushes are sweet and accessible. In recent times ling has been suggested as a material for paper, but the stems are hardly sufficiently fibrous for that purpose. The purple or fine-leaved heath, E. cinerea, one of the most beautiful of the genus, abounds on the lower moors and commons of Great Britain and western Europe, in such situations being some-times more prevalent than the ling. The flowers of both these species yield much honey, furnishing a plentiful supply to the bees in moorland districts ; from this heath honey the Bicts probably brewed the mead said by Boetius to have been made from the flowers themselves.
It was until recently supposed that no species of heath existed in America; but of late years isolated plants of ling have been found in various parts of New England, Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton, while it has been stated to occur in some abundance in several places in Newfoundland; probably in distant ages it may have had a wider range on the American continent. The whole group, as observed by Bentham, is " eminently Atlantic " in its present distribu-tion,of nearly 500 known species by far the greater part being indigenous to the western districts of South Africa, and nearly all the remainder limited to Europe and its adjacent islands.
The Cape heaths have long been favourite objects of horticulture. In the warmer parts of Britain several will bear exposure to the cold of ordinary winters in a sheltered border, but most need the protection of the conservatory. They are sometimes raised from seed, but are chiefly multi- plied by cuttings "struck" in sand, and afterwards trans- ferred to pots filled with a mixture of black peat and sand; the peat should be dry and free from sourness. Much attention is requisite in watering heaths, as they seldom recover if once allowed to droop, while they will not bear much water about their roots: the heath-house should be light and well ventilated, the plants requiring sun, and soon perishing in a close or permanently damp atmosphere; in England little or no heat is needed in ordinary seasons. The European heaths succeed well in English gardens, only requiring a peaty soil and sunny situation to thrive as well as in their native localities: E. carnea, mediterranea, eiliaris, vagans, and the pretty cross-leaved heath of boggy moors, E. tetralix, are among those most worthy of cultiva- tion. The beautiful large-flowered St Dabeoc's heath, belonging to the closely allied genus Memiesia, is likewise often seen in gardens. (c. P. J.)