A low shrub from 6 in. to 11⁄2 ft high, with rather stiff, much-divided branches; young shoots downy. Leaves normally three in a whorl, linear, 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. long, flat above, convex beneath, pointed, deep green and glabrous. Flowers produced from June to September in terminal umbels of four to eight flowers, or in racemes 1 to 3 in. long; corolla egg-shaped, 1⁄4 in. long, bright purple, with four teeth at the opening. Calyx-lobes narrow-lanceolate, one-third the length of the corolla, semi-transparent, glabrous; flower-stalk 1⁄8 to 1⁄6 in. long, downy.
Native of W. Europe from Norway to Spain and N. Italy, and very generally distributed over the moors of Britain. It is, perhaps, the most beautiful of the dwarf summer- and autumn-flowering heaths, and produces an enormous profusion of blossom. In cultivated ground in the Thames Valley it is apt to be shortlived, growing too fast in the early summer and often scorched by excessive heat in July and August. It is improved by cutting over in the early spring before growth starts. It has varied much in the colour of the flowers, and the dozen or so clones in commerce when the first edition of this work was published has now risen to one hundred. For the following short selection we are indebted to the Royal Horticultural Society:
‘Alba Major’. – White flowers in clusters at the ends of the stems. June-August.
‘Alba Minor’. – White compact growth, light green foliage. June-October.
‘Atrorubens’. – Long sprays of ruby-red flowers. June-August.
‘C. D. Eason’. – Rich rosy-red flowers, deep green foliage. June-September.
‘Cevennes’. – Upright growth with lavender-rose flowers. June-Aug.
‘Eden Valley’. – Rosy-lilac flowers fading to white at the base. June-September.
‘Golden Drop’. – Golden-copper foliage in summer, changing to red in the winter. Flowers pinkish purple but sparsely produced.
‘Knap Hill Pink’. – Bright pink flowers, deep green foliage. June-September.
‘P. S. Patrick’. – Very rich purple flowers in long spikes. July-September.
‘Rosea’. – Bright pink. June-September.
These and the type are worth planting freely for producing broad masses of colour at a season when comparatively few shrubs are in bloom.
A form of E. cinerea was named by Boulger var. schizopetala; in it the corollas, normally egg- or pitcher-shaped, are divided to the base into four lanceolate lobes. This abnormality has been noted several times among wild plants and is also seen in the cultivars E. cinerea ‘W. G. Notley’ and ‘Winifred Whitley’. It is difficult to agree with G. Krüssmann’s view that these plants are intergeneric hybrids between the bell-heather and Calluna vulgaris (Deutsche Baumschule, 1960, p. 154, and Handbuch der Laubgehölze, Vol. 1, p. 419, where the three clones mentioned are referred to × Ericalluna bealeana Krüssmann). A similar polypetalous malformation is noted under Kalmia latifolia and is to be found in other ericaceous species.