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Heather

Also known as Ling, or Common Heather, this is ubiquitous to dry open Scottish moorland, mainly because of grouse-management. In its original habitat heather would have been an understorey shrub of pine forest, but the forests were felled and now little is allowed to grow except Heather which provides food and shelter for the Red Grouse shot for sport on many Highland estates. It is slightly later flowering than Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), and can turn the hillsides more purple than the pink of Bell Heather flowers. Although it is an Erica, it was separated in the 18th century into its own separate genus, calluna, by an extremely bad-tempered botanist named Richard Anthony Salisbury.

The leafless stems are woody and upright, and send out many shorter side shoots which produce the leaves. These are tiny, about 2mm long, and are needle-like, growing in opposite rows. 

The flowers grow in crowded leafy spikes, and each has 4 mauve or purple sepal-lobes and a shallow bell-shaped pink petal tube. Sometimes completely white varieties can be found, which is deemed to be “lucky Heather”. 

As well as red grouse, sheep and deer feed on common Heather, as do several varieties of butterfly.

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