An evergreen bush up to 18 ft high, elegant in branching and often somewhat columnar in outline; young shoots greyish owing to a dense covering of whitish, branched hairs. Leaves of the typical heath shape, mostly in whorls of three, 3⁄16 to 1⁄4 in. long, the thickness of a stout thread, dark green, the margins much recurved. Flowers lilac-pink in the open, white or pale rose under glass, 1⁄8 in. wide; corolla cup-shaped with wide shallow lobes; calyx-lobes white, ovate, pointed; anthers brown, exposed; style white, standing out 1⁄8 in. above the anthers; flower-stalk downy, 1⁄8 in. long. The flowers are mostly crowded towards the end of short twigs, making the older shoots from which they spring cylindrical panicles of blossom. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 339.
Native of S. Africa; introduced about 1802. This heath was once well known throughout the country, under the name “melanthera”, as a greenhouse plant grown in pots, and not infrequently hawked in the streets. But it is hardier than is generally believed and is not sufficiently planted out-of-doors in the milder parts of the country. It is seen at its best in the Cornish gardens, and there was a singularly fine form in the garden at Ludgvan, near Penzance. It should, however, be tried more frequently in the southern parts of Sussex, Hampshire, and Dorset. Even at Kew, at the foot of a wall, with a shelter of canvas in cold weather, it survived three winters and flowered outside, although the winter of 1928-9 proved too much for it. It begins to bloom early in the year and continues one of the most beautiful of flowering shrubs for three months.