About Heaths and Heathers

The wild heather, found in the British Isles, Europe, and Asia Minor and naturalized in Newfoundland, Labrador, and Cape Cod, requires moist, acidic, well drained peaty soils and year-round protection from the wind. In Fort Tryon’s Heather Garden, emulating the quiet and harmony of this type of landscape is a constant challenge. Our soils are rich with clay, New York City summers are hot and dry, and the winter winds are brutal to these ground-hugging plants. The dedicated gardeners work under the guidance and inspiration of the Northeast Heather Society to nurture and maintain the heaths and heathers. In turn, Parks Department staff mentor seasonal workers in the intensive horticultural practices the garden requires.

Within the Heather Bed, thousands of plants, representing more than 50 varieties of heaths (Erica carnea and Erica x darlyensis) and heathers (Calluna vulgaris), appear in a constantly changing tapestry of color and texture that is punctuated by evergreen shrubs, mature elms, seasonal annuals, and perennials. While the heaths flower from winter to early spring, heathers bloom in mid-summer. Both are evergreen, though the leaves are not always green. Some heather’s leaves turn silver, copper, red, or chocolate in winter. The changing colors and the variety of shapes and textures of the plants provide year-round interest.

Heath
Heath, click to enlarge

Heather
Heather, click to enlarge

What is the difference between a heath and heather?

Heaths have dense, needle-like leaves along their stems.

Heathers have small, scale-like, opposite leaves.

The more scientific answer is Heath and Heather are the common names for two groups of plants that belong to the Family Ericaceae. Heath encompasses the genus erica that includes many different groups from summer to winter bloomers. True heathers are the Calluna vulgaris and are mostly summer bloomers.