Saturday, 16 August 2014

Flora Focus: Heather

There is no denying that the heather filled moorland all around us is looking splendid. I don't know what it is, but this year the heather seems to be more vibrant, richer purples and more widespread than I remember in previous years.

Chunal Moor, with Wormstones crag at the top right
The heather we see most commonly is actually called Ling and typically flowers from August to September. It's a plant which loves acid moorland and bogs - perfect for on the moorland around Glossop. The flowers are rich in nectar - a super food for bees and their honey production. 

Historical uses for heather include thatch for roofing, brooms, bedding, making baskets and ropes, dying wool yellow/orange and in the Bronze Age the Picts and Celts made ale. Ale brewing with heather has seen a revival recently, and I can report that it is very tasty indeed. There's also information on the internet about heather being used in herbal remedies and as an antidote for stings and bites from venomous animals, as well as a diuretic and urinary antiseptic agent.

In addition to the common Ling there are two other types of heather - Cross-leaved Heath and Bell Heather. If you're interested in learning how to identify each type of heather - here's some useful information I've found on the Wildlife Trusts website:

  • Cross-leaved Heath has pink, bell-shaped flowers clustered at the end of long, branched stems. Grey-green leaves are narrow and in whorls of four.
  • Bell Heather is distinctive with its dark purple-pink, bell-shaped flowers forming clusters up the stem, and short, dark green needle-like leaves borne in whorls of three.
  • The stems of Heather are woody and coarse, sometimes clumped together and close to the ground in exposed areas. The delicate pink flowers grow loosely up the stem and the short, narrow leaves are borne in rows.
Bell Heather
On moorland above the Doctors Gate path I found a mix of Ling and
Bell Heather. You can see the more delicate Ling, top left.
The glorious purple won't last long, so do get out and enjoy it while it's here.

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