A shrub of rather open, ungainly habit, usually 3 or 4 ft high, occasionally to 8 ft or more; young shoots erect, covered with a short thick down. Leaves linear, 1⁄4 in. long, glandular on the margins when quite young, arranged in whorls of fours; dark green above, channelled beneath. Flowers borne on the previous year’s growth in clusters of four or eight at the end of the shoot. Corolla cylindrical, 1⁄3 in. long, bright purplish red, with four rounded lobes at the mouth; calyx less than half as long as the corolla, slightly downy; anthers slightly exposed; flower-stalk 1⁄12 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 8045.
Native of Spain and Portugal, introduced according to Aiton by the then Earl of Coventry in 1769. In the richness and brightness of its colouring it is the best of the taller heaths, and flowers from April to June. Unfortunately it is not absolutely hardy, and very severe winters almost clear the country of it, for which reason it has often been rare. It has lived in the open at Kew since 1896, although sometimes hard hit by frost. It will thrive permanently in the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, etc. In gardens, E. erigena is often confused with it and flowers at the same time, but is readily distinguished by its cylindrical clusters of blossom, the individual flowers coming in the leaf-axils along the shoot – not terminal as in australis. The flower arrangement of E. australis is similar to that of E. terminalis, but the latter only starts to bloom when australis is over, and it does so on the shoots of the current year.
cv. ‘Mr Robert’. – A form of E. australis with pure white flowers of the same size and shape as in the type and clustered at the end of the twigs in the same way. It was first found wild in 1912 by the late Lieut. Robert Williams, of Caerhays, in the mountains of southern Spain near Algeciras, and by him was introduced to cultivation. At Caerhays in 1930 it was 9 ft high. It flowers very freely in spring, its pure white blossom making it a very charming addition to the hardy heaths. Lieut. Williams belonged to the 3rd Grenadier Guards and fell on one of the battlefields near Loos on 8th October 1915. As a young man at home he was known as ‘Mr Robert’, and this heath has been named after him to perpetuate his memory and his enthusiasm, for it cost him ten days’ hard searching to find it. It seems to be a little hardier than E. australis.