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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.
A notable new cultivar of this species is ‘Irish Dusk’, of columnar habit and with dusky red flowers.
For the name E. erigena see Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 99, p. 463 (1974) and The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.), Vol. 101, p. 489 (1976).
The collective designation for white-flowered plants of this species is f. alba (Bean) McClintock (E. mediterranea var. alba Bean).