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Mountain Heath

Phyllodoce caerulea

  • Name also: Blue Mountainheath (USA)
  • Family: Heather Family – Ericaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial dwarf shrub.
  • Height: 10–15 cm (4–6 in.). Stem ascending–erect, branched, woody.
  • Flower: Corolla urceolate (pitcher-shaped), initially red, later purple–virtually blue, (occasionally white), 7–12 mm (0.28–0.48 in.) long, fused, shallowly 5-lobed. Sepals 5. Stamens 10. A single carpel. Flowers in pairs–small groups terminating branches, long-stalked, nodding.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalkless, spreading, overwintering. Blade needle-like, shallowly serrate, leathery, semi-matt on top, glabrous, underside white-downy, with glands.
  • Fruit: 4 mm long, with glandular hairs, reddish brown capsule.
  • Habitat: Fell moors, sometimes mountain birch woodland and coniferous forest.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

After the Ice Age, Arctic vegetation began to colonise areas being revealed by the retreating ice. As the continental ice retreated, plants followed it north and up into the fells. Signs of Finland’s fell species’ long trek north can still be seen today, thousands of years after the Ice Age ended: mountain heath is among the plants that still grow on certain southern fells. It is ascending or erect and needs a reasonable amount of snow to cover its shoots in winter, so it doesn’t rise from the lower alpine tundra to the highest fell peaks. Mountain heath is self-pollinating and produces small, light seeds which spread easily on the wind to new habitats. Now and again it spreads as far as the coniferous forest zone.

Mountain heath deviates from the main species in that it lacks red pigments. The eye-catching consequence of this is a white corolla, and the flowers are erect and sparse, numbering only a few at most. The pigments are also lacking from the leaves, which are bright green. It is easy to recognize flowering mountain heath from its violet, urceolate (pitcher-shaped) flowers, which are easily noticed by passers-by. When it is not flowering it looks quite like crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), although mountain heath’s leaves are finely serrated while crowberry’s are glossy.

Other species from the same family

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