Heather, or Ling, Calluna vulgaris
The heather moorlands in the North pennines are just about at their best now, with hundreds of acres of hillside clad in billions of tiny purple flowers. Although heather moorland looks like a uniform sea of purple there are three different species that contribute to the purple haze that shimmers on the fellside on a hot summer afternoon. Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) grows in the boggier patches and flowers first, followed by bell heather (Erica cinerea) and ling or true heather (Calluna vulgaris) which both grow on drier soils. Flowers of the first two species are distinctly bell-shaped and in bell heather they’re concentrated in clusters at the shoot tips, whereas in cross-leaved heath they tend to be distributed more uniformly down the stem. The leaves of cross-leaved heath are distinctive too, arranged in whorls of four. Ling, in the close-up photograph above, is far the commonest of the three and has more densely packed, paler, smaller flowers distributed over long lengths of stem, with leaves that are tiny in comparison with the other two species. The heather moorlands of the north Pennines are skilfully managed by cyclical of burning in strips, removing the old, moribund heather. The fast-moving fire burns away the old heather without killing the roots, which then regenerate tender new shoots that are an important element in the diet of red grouse. Burning in strips creates a varied habitat with a mosaic of age structures, providing a habitat for a wonderful range of birds, insects and reptiles............more of them anon.