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Mediterranean Heath (38)

heathThe Mediterranean Heath (Scientific name: Erica multiflora) is native of the Mediterranean region (including Malta) and is known by various Maltese names, including amongst others: Erika, Issopu, Leħjet ix-Xiħ, Sagħtar Aħmar and Savina. This common shrub is usually found in our garrigue - a vegetation community characterised by aromatic, low-lying, woody shrubs, as well as in our cliffs and boulder screes.

This evergreen shrub, with compact branches, may sometimes reach a height of two to three meters. Its leaves, which are dark green becoming reddish at times, are arranged in whorls of three or sometimes five around the stem. This rigid foliage is needle-like with rounded tips and edges which bend downwards- this being thought to be the reason why it is referred to as Leħjet ix-Xiħ. Although, the flowers are usually either pink or flesh colour, on our Islands we also find a form of Mediterranean Heath, which contrastingly produces whitish flowers. The narrow bell-shaped flowers, are either found in small clusters or solitary in the axils of the leaves. They have distinctive purplish anthers, which comprise that part  of the flower that produces pollen.

Unfortunately in the past, people used to cut huge quantities of this shrub to decorate their Christmas cribs, because it flowers in winter.

Interestingly in certain countries, this species is considered to be of importance due the role it plays in the production of honey.

The Mediterranean Heath is a plant of national interest; its taking from the wild and its exploitation may be subject to management measures to help safeguard it.

A curiosity is that the female name Heather possibly derives from the English name of this shrub.