Dienstag, 2. April 2013

Plant of the Day (April 2nd, 2013) - Erica arborea L.

The next “Plant of the Day” may look like a conifer, but is a flowering plant. This species is Erica arborea L. from the Ericaceae family (heaths). In German, the species is known as “Baumheide”, while the common English name is “tree heath”.

E. arborens - habitus

E. arborea is normally an evergreen and richly branched shrub, which can reach a height between 1 and 6 metres. (3.3 to 19.7feet). A maximum height of nearly 20 metres (nearly 66.6 feet) is also possible. This makes E. arborea to one of the largest Eriaceae of the world.

The most distinctive feature of this species is its conifer-like habitus which has a similarity to a cypress. This is also the reason for the Latin name: “Erica” means heath and “arborea” “tree-like”. The German and the English name are the literally translation of the Latin Name. The stems of young trees are covered with many, white hairs. 

 E. arborens - branches & leaves. bleas note the white
film on the brances, which are the white hairs of younger plants 

In consequence, the leaves are needle-like, only 5 millimetres long and arranged in whorls with 4 to 5 leaves per whorl. They have a bright green to medium green colour and a xerophyte morphology. For example, the margin is rolled, the surface is leathery and the cuticula thick.

E. arborens - same branc, closer look

The inflorescences are cyme-like with overhanging, bell-shaped flowers. They arise from the whorls of the bracts. Each flower has a long “flower stalk”, which is called Penducle in Botany. Sepals and petals are white, but the petals have a dark spot on their inside. Flowering time is between February and April. The ripe fruit is a drupe.


E. arborens - as ornamental tree on a cemetery

E. arborea is native to the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands and Central Africa. It's part of the laurel woods and marquis shrublands. This are very hot and dry regions, what is also the reason for the xeropmorphic habitus of the leaves and the white hairs, which protects young plants from dryness. Like the most heaths, this species prefers acidic places to grow.

The noble wood of E. arborea is very hard and resistant towards fire. It's also beautifully textured and has a unique, reddish brown color. Because of these properties, the wood is called bruyere in France and is used to make smoking pipes. The noble Bruyere is also used to make knive handles.

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