Plant Heritage calls for action to save heather cultivars

Plant conservation charity Plant Heritage is urging action to safeguard heather cultivars, which research has shown are in decline.

Research undertaken by the charity’s Threatened Plants Project has found that many cultivars of heather have disappeared altogether over the past decade and 60 per cent of the remaining 1441 heathers listed in the RHS online Plant Finder are officially threatened.

Loss of popularity for the plant has led to many varieties disappearing from nurseries and gardens. 146 cultivars assessed by Plant Heritage have not been found anywhere.

Erica carnea ‘Mr Reeves’ has not been found since 1969 and Erica cinerea ‘Lilian Martin’ has not been cultivated since 1978.

Of Calluna, 64 per cent are threatened, with five cultivars found exclusively at Savill Gardens and in National Trust gardens and 180 cultivars not found anywhere in Britain and Ireland. Of the Daboecia, 59 per cent are threatened and 16 cultivars are lost.

Plant Heritage plant conservation officer Mercy Morris said the problem with the demise of the heather was that it is associated by many gardeners with the heather and dwarf conifer beds of the 70s.

"Heathers are sold in garden centres almost as bedding plants in packs by colour, with little or no information. So there is little to pique the interest of the keen gardener," she said.

"The industry must act to prevent a potential mass extinction by growing more named heathers, asking their local garden centre or nursery for named cultivars, joining a specialist society (The Heather Society) or working towards holding a National Plant Collection."

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