This low shrub occurs on moist heathland, extending into relatively dry heath, and also into wet valley bogs, mainly on the drier hummocks. Seedlings establish on bare ground, but in closed habitats reproduction is usually vegetative. Generally lowland, but reaching 400 m on Dartmoor (S. Devon).
Much heathland with E. ciliaris in Dorset has been lost to forestry, but recently this trend has been stabilised or reversed and there is now some indication of a natural extension in its range. The Cornish sites are probably relics of larger populations. Other populations may be native or introductions to natural habitats.
Oceanic Southern-temperate element.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 19
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.11
RDB Species Accounts
Erica ciliaris L. (Ericaceae)
Status in Britain: LOWER RISK - Near Threatened.
Status in Europe: Not threatened. Near Endemic.
E. ciliaris occurs on both acidic mineral and humic soils in a number of plant communities ranging from dry heath and acid grasslands to wet heath and peatland. In Dorset, the plant is most abundant on the wet and humid heaths where it grows in association with Calluna vulgaris, Drosera intermedia, D. rotundifolia, Erica tetralix, Molinia caerulea and the mosses Sphagnum compactum and S. tenellum. Rarer species in the community include Gentiana pneumonanthe, Pinguicula lusitanica, Rhynchospora alba and R. fusca. It also occurs in valley mires where, in addition to the above species, Sphagnum papillosum is frequent. E. ciliaris also occurs in drier freely draining situations with Agrostis curtisii, Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea and either Ulex gallii or U. minor. In Cornwall it is mainly restricted to the drier U. gallii communities.
This species is a long-lived dwarf shrub with individual stems surviving for up to twenty years. However, the vigorous regrowth of shoots from mature rootstocks after cutting or burning suggests that the below-ground portion of the plant may be very long-lived. Seed is set annually from the third season, but seedling growth and establishment are observed only where the soil surface has been exposed and disturbed by burning, cutting or grazing of the vegetation. In undisturbed vegetation, propagation is usually vegetative, by adventitious root growth from prostrate stems.
E. ciliaris is a member of the small Lusitanian element in our flora. The majority of the British sites are in Dorset, where, however, much of its former range has been lost to conifer plantations and some to agricultural conversion. The remaining large populations are within the NNRs lying to the south of Poole Harbour. Outside of this area there are numerous small populations and isolated plants and the consensus of opinion (Chapman 1975, Haskins 1978, Chapman & Rose 1994) is that these are founder populations on the edge of an expanding range. The sites in Cornwall are thought to be relict fragments of formerly much larger populations. Colonies in other areas of Britain, most notably in the New Forest and on Dartmoor, are considered to have originated from deliberate introductions.
In recent years, many of its Dorset sites have been managed for heathland conservation, principally by grazing, and some former sites which had been planted with conifers are now being returned to heathland. In Cornwall the position is less clear, the greater fragmentation of heathland having resulted in much smaller populations of E. ciliaris, thus making conservation management less practicable. The influence of various management practices and environmental factors is summarised in Rose, et al. (1996). Hybridisation occurs where E. tetralix grows with E. ciliaris. The hybrid (E. x watsonii) shows a wide range of forms with a number of characters that are intermediate between its parent species, suggesting that back crossing occurs. The fertility of hybrid plants is very low, but they are more vigorous than either parent and, in places where only vegetative spread occurs, hybrids can dominate the vegetation.
E. ciliaris is at the northern limit of its range in Britain and Ireland, where it is found both in south-west England and west Galway . Its world distribution extends southwards through western France, Spain and Portugal as far as the north-west tip of Morocco.
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Atlas text references
References: Atlas (194d)
1988. The Irish Red Data Book. 1. Vascular Plants.
1999. Erica ciliaris L. (Ericaceae) discovered in the Blackdown Hills, on the Somerset-Devon border (v.c. 3). Watsonia. 22:426-428.
1968. Critical supplement to the Atlas of the British Flora.
1996. Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 192. Erica ciliaris L. Journal of Ecology. 84:617-628.
1999. British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.