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 (See video Buzz Pollination)
    • 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.

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