Heather or 'Ling' (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
Heather or 'ling' is a bushy evergreen shrub with tiny scale like leaves, each with a waxy coat that protects them from drying out in the sun and wind. Heather is one of the most common and most important moorland plants found on the Harris moors. You can’t go anywhere on the moorland without seeing Heather. In fact the brown colour of the moorland is due to the colour of the Heather itself and in some years the Heather blossom will turn entire hillsides purple during August and Septemeber.
Heather is an important food plant for many species including Red Grouse, Mountain Hares and several species of caterpillar. The flower nectar is an important food for many insects including bees, butterflies and moths, particularly the Emperor Moth. Heather is also the most woody and substantial plant in many moorland areas providing shelter for many species as well as nesting sites for small birds such as Wrens and Stonechats. Heather is an evergreen, keeping its leaves throughout the winter when it provides winter food for Sheep, Red Deer, and Mountain Hares.
Red Grouse are never far from Heather. They feed mainly on Heather shoots and use it as cover for their nests. They have even evolved a plumage that camouflages them among the Heather.
In the past Heather was also an important resource for us. Being the tallest most woody plants on the moorland, it was the traditional thatching material and was also used for bedding and for brooms.
Bell Heather (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
In addition to common heather, or ling there are two other species of Heather found on Harris, Cross-leaved Heath and Bell Heather. Both Cross-leaved Heath and Bell Heather also have pink flowers but their flowers are much larger than those of ling and they flower earlier in July rather than August and September. Cross-leaved heath is found on the wetter boggy areas whilst Bell Heather is found on drier knolls and rocky hummocks.
Cross Leaved Heath (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
by Robin Reid