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)

      • Herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and trees
      • 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
      • 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 50x that of gravity–5x 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)
          • Less than 10% of the world’s flowers are buzz pollinated (Holstein)
          • 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

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

            Holstein, G. “Pollination Question.” Gardening. Sacramento Valley Chapter, California Native Plant Society.

              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