Woven into Scottish folklore, songs and poetry, references to heather evoke a sentiment that reflects a part of Scottish identity tied to this hardy, evergreen shrub. Travellers to Scotland hope to experience the brilliantly coloured hills of heather so intrinsic to Scottish culture.
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Heather's scientific name is Calluna vulgaris, indicating a certain degree of historical significance: Calluna is a Greek word meaning "to brush or sweep," because the shrub's twigs made excellent brooms, and vulgaris is Latin for "common." North American heather blooms in July through November.
Heather grows in nutrient-poor, acidic soils and survives in cooler, damper climates. The low-growing, perennial shrub flourishes in open areas, occurring in dry fields and heathlands, wetlands, in pine-birch forest and oak woodland clearings, and above the treeline. Resilient and regenerative, heather's life-cycle spans 30 to 40 years.
In Scotland, the pale purple to pinkish spikes appear in July, leading into the most plentiful flowering period during August, when heather truly colours the hills. Some plants continue blooming into October. Latitude and altitude influence the timing of heather's blooming period: Plants lower down the hillsides bloom first, gradually followed by those extending up the hills. Orientation to the sun also affects heather's flowering: South-facing slopes bloom earlier and more proficiently than those facing north.
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