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A shrub of bushy habit, or in favourable localities a tree over 20 ft high, with a distinct trunk; young wood very hairy, the hairs branched. Leaves very densely packed in whorls of threes, 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. long, glabrous, linear, grooved beneath. Flowers very fragrant, borne in great profusion in March and April, and usually clustered near the end of short twigs that clothe the shoots of the preceding year, the whole making a slender panicle up to 11⁄2 ft in length. Corolla globular, 1⁄8 in. long, almost white; sepals ovate, not half as long as the corolla; stigma much flattened, white; flower-stalk 1⁄8 in. long, smooth.
Native of S. Europe, N. Africa and northern Asia Minor as far as Lazistan and the foothills of the W. Caucasus; also in Abyssinia and on many of the higher mountains of eastern and central Africa (including Mt Kilimanjaro); introduced in 1658. This fine heath is not seen at its best near London, although it grows 8 to 10 ft high there. Ultimately, however, there comes a frost that kills it. In the Isle of Wight there is, or used to be, a tree in the gardens of Steephill Castle, Ventnor, over 20 ft high, with a trunk 21⁄2 ft in girth near the ground. Even on the Dalmatian islands, where I have seen this heath wild, these dimensions are not exceeded. It appears to be able to withstand about 20° of frost with impunity, if it be of only one or two nights’ duration. The stems are very brittle and easily broken by heavy snow. In former times the wood was largely used at Cannes for turning and making into ‘briar-root’ tobacco pipes – a corruption of the French ‘bruyère’. It was once abundant along the coast from Marseilles to Genoa. The flowers, whose odour is like that of honey, remain, after fading, on the plants till June.