Heath Family

Pacific Madrone © DSchiel

Ericaceae (er-i-KAY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Usually shrubs or trees
  • Peeling bark
  • Leathery, simple leaves
  • Urn- or bell-shaped flowers

Description (Jepson)

  • Eudicotyledons (eudicots) – a major lineage of flowering plants including most plants traditionally described as dicots and generally characterized by
    • 2 seed leaves (dicotyledon)
    • Netted (reticulate) leaf venation
    • Flower parts in fours and fives
    • Pollen grains with 3 pores (tricolpate)
    • Vascular bundles in stem arranged in a ring
    • Taproot system
  • Herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and trees
  • Bark often with distinctive peeling
  • Leaves
    • Simple (not divided into leaflets)
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem) or opposite (2 leaves at each junction with stem)
    • Evergreen or deciduous; often leathery
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) in many forms
    • Generally bisexual and radially symmetrical flowers, often bell- or urn-shaped
    • Anthers open by pores or slits
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts) or inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a berry (a usually multi-seeded fruit with a fleshy ovary wall), a drupe (a fleshy fruit with usually 1 seed in a hard inner shell — a stone fruit), or capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)


  • Approximately 3,000 species worldwide
    • Includes blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas, heathers, and manzanitas
  • Adapted to grow on acidic, nutrient-poor, sandy soils
  • Many plants in this family (e.g. manzanitas and madrones) are pollinated most effectively by sonication or “buzz pollination”
    • Flowers have specialized “poricidal,” tube-shaped anthers containing firmly-attached pollen and having, unlike most anthers, small openings, like a salt shaker, which regulate the dispersal of pollen
    • Only bumblebees, along with a few other native bees, can release this pollen by grasping the flower with their legs or mouthparts and vibrating their flight muscles without moving their wings
      • Watch this short video to see how buzz pollination works (KQED 2016)
    • Vibrating bees may generate forces 50 times that of gravity–that’s 5 times what fighter jet pilots experience (U. of Stirling 2020)–causing pollen to “blast out” of the anthers (Zimmer 2013)
    • Buzz-pollinating bees make a distinctive, middle-C “raspberry” sound, which is higher pitched than the buzz of flight (Rosenthal 2008)
    • Only about 9% of the world’s flowers are buzz pollinated (Buchmann 1985)
    • A number of important agricultural crops, such as tomatoes and potatoes, require buzz pollination
    • Poricidal anthers have evolved several times in disparate plant families, an example of convergent evolution (de Luca and Vellejo-Marin 2013)
  • Scientific name from the included genus Erica, from the Latin for “heath”
  • Also known as the Blueberry family
  • Represented by 4 species at Edgewood

See General References

Specific References

Buchmann, S.L. 1985. Bees use vibration to aid pollen collection from non-poricidal flowers. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 58: 517-525. JSTOR.

de Luca, P.A. and M. Vellejo-Marin. 2013. What’s the “buzz” about? The ecology and evolutionary significance of buzz pollination. Current Opinion in Plant Biology 16: 429-435.

KQED San Francisco. 2016, Jul. 9. This vibrating bumble bee unlocks a flower’s hidden treasure [Video]. Deep Look. YouTube.

University of Stirling. 2020, Jul. 29. Bees’ buzz is more powerful for pollination, than for defense or flight. ScienceDaily.

Zimmer, C. 2013, Jul. 11. Unraveling the pollinating secrets of a bee’s buzz. New York Times.

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family