A shrub 6 to 10 ft high, of dense bushy form; branches erect and glabrous. Leaves linear, 1⁄6 to 1⁄3 in. long, dark green, produced in whorls of four. Flowers borne singly or in pairs at each of the leaf-axils at the ends of the twigs of the previous year, the buds being formed the previous summer. They make dense leafy racemes 1 to 2 in. long. Corolla cylindrical, 1⁄4 in. long, of a rich rosy red; calyx-lobes narrow-oblong, rather more than half as long as the corolla; anthers dark red, exposed; flower-stalk 1⁄8 in. or less long.
Native of S.W. France, Portugal, Spain, and of Co. Galway and Co. Mayo in Ireland, but not of the Mediterranean region. It was in cultivation, according to Aiton, in 1648. Of the spring-flowering heaths it is the finest and best for a climate like that of London. It is quite hardy at Kew except in the severest of all winters, and planted there in large masses provides a continuous feast of colour and fragrance from March (or even earlier) to May. Its fragrance is like that of honey.
cv. ‘Alba’. – Flowers white; plant not so large and robust as the type, growing to about 2 ft high. ‘W. T. Rackliff’ is similar, with larger flowers.
cv. ‘Brightness’. – This grows to about 2 ft high; foliage dark green. Flowers pink, from bronzy-red buds. Of Irish origin, before 1925.
cv. ‘Nana’. – A dwarf plant forming a rounded tuft 1 to 11⁄2 ft high. Not so free-flowering as the type.
cv. ‘Superba’. – A vigorous form growing to 6 ft or more high. Flowers clearer pink than in the type.
In his paper in Journ. Linn. Soc., Vol. 60 (1967), pp. 61-71, Ross showed conclusively that the name E. mediterranea had been misapplied and he was forced to find another name for the plants generally known as E. mediterranea. He first took up E. hibernica (Hook. & Arn.) Syme but subsequently found that this was antedated by E. hibernica Utinet, so a new name was necessary. Hence E. erigena.