Cultivation and characteristics of Erica arborea


Erica arborea is a very common shrub in the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands, especially abundant in the Mediterranean area. It also grows in East and North Africa, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus.

Although there are many varieties of heather, the white heather is the only one capable of reaching the size of a tree, there is a protected specimen on the island of La Gomera, within the Garajonay national park that exceeds 22 meters in height.

Both for its ornamental value and for the special characteristics of its wood and its roots, it is a highly sought after and valued shrub .

Erica arborea, is commonly known as white heather although depending on the area, it has different vernacular names such as white urce in Galicia, brezu or briezu in Asturias, Iñarra in the Basque Country or Bruc in Catalonia and the Valencian Community.


Belonging to the Ericaceae family White heather is a slow-growing shrub with dense branches, usually measuring between 50 cm. and 2 meters high, being able to become a tree between 7 and 12 meters high in areas of Andalusia and the Canary Islands due to its special weather.

It begins to branch out practically from the base. The youngest branches are covered with uneven hairs and the main trunk and the oldest branches are covered by a fibrous, brownish-brown bark that sloughs off in thin elongated strips when mature.

The leaves of the white heather are evergreen , smooth, hairless and of a bright, deep green color. Its smooth edges fold back on themselves and give it the shape of an elongated needle of about 3 to 8 mm. long by 0.5 to 0.7 mm. Wide. They are arranged grouped in whorls of three or four units, resembling the blades of a fan.

Foliage of Erica arborea. Photo by: Snapshooter46


It blooms towards the end of winter or early spring , its white or light pink flowers are very small, about 3 mm., But very abundant. In the branches of the white heather, they form a large pyramidal panicle or cluster with the pedicel attached to three small bracts that hold the bell-shaped corolla.

The fruit is a small globose capsule of about 2 mm. It is composed of 4 valves and inside it contains small black seeds.


White heather is a fairly easy growing shrub that is resistant to pests and diseases. It is very very rustic. It has the property of producing what is called heather soil , a very nutritious substrate that occurs mainly in heaths. Places in which they grow in great numbers, either in the wild or by the hand of man. For example in areas where it is used for reforestation together with native plants. The rich soil of the heaths allows trees and plants to grow optimally and healthily.

In its wild form it grows in areas close to natural water courses or in humid forests such as pine, beech or oak groves and at a maximum height of 2000 meters above sea level.


To grow Erica arborea in gardens, the substrate must be acidic , as it does not support calcareous soils. The substrate must have good drainage , because although it likes humidity, a waterlogged soil could spoil its roots and kill the plant.

White heather in bloom. Photo by: Tim Waters


The watering should be limited or moderate, is a plant that withstands drought. It is best to wait until the soil is completely dry to water it.

By itself it is a plant that enriches the earth, but it does not hurt to help it. In early spring, fertilizing the soil with some organic compost .


Despite not needing much maintenance, if we want to keep them beautiful to look at in our garden, we will prune the oldest and driest branches and remove the withered flowers. This will always be done during the warmer months. A freshly pruned plant could be damaged in low temperatures.


The multiplication of the white heather can be achieved through seeds planted during the spring. It can also be made from cuttings that we will select from a tender branch and plant at the end of the summer.

If we have a young specimen that we want to transplant to a definitive location in the garden, we must always do it during the spring or autumn.


Both the branches and the wood and roots of the white heather are highly valued for different uses.

Due to its characteristic thin and dense branches, it is used in the manufacture of artisan brooms and also to make awnings on terraces or concealment fences.

Its firewood is highly appreciated for the ease with which it ignites, which is why it is widely used, especially in forges and wood ovens, as well as being one of the best for making charcoal .

Its wood , of a beautiful veined reddish color, is hard and dense , which is why it is highly appreciated by cabinetmakers and turners, from which they carve small carvings and sculptures.

The root, which has a very beautiful and characteristic veined appearance, is highly valued for the manufacture of smoking pipes.   The Ferrari firm uses it to manufacture dashboards and gear lever knobs for their cars.

As a curiosity, according to the anthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga, the Scottish clans were not distinguished by the color or pattern of their skirts. Their mark of distinction between clans was the type of heather they wore on their cap, for example, red heather or white heather. Also the Scots, specifically the Picts, a confederation of clans, brewed a beer that the British poet and writer Robert Louis Stevenson describes in the poem: sweeter than honey and stronger than wine?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *