What is heather?
Heather is an evergreen shrub native to Europe and northern Africa. It is listed on the national Alert List for Environmental Weeds.
Heather is a
declared weed in Tasmania under the Tasmanian Weed Management Act 1999. The importation, sale and distribution of heather are prohibited in Tasmania.
How to identify heather
- Heather is an evergreen perennial (long-lived) shrub with woody stems. Heather grows to 0.5 - 1.25 m tall, and varies from a low-lying mat-like form to upright ball-shaped bushes and dwarf trees.
- Young growth is initially densely hairy but the plant becomes hairless later. The stems have dark orange to red bark. Small, stalkless leaves grow in four vertical rows along the branches. The leaves are initially dark green and later turn brown.
- Heather has bell-shaped flowers, generally pale purple although pink and white-flowered plants also occur. Heather flowers have petals which are separate for most of their length, whereas other similar plants (Erica species) have a tubular or urn-like flower of fused petals. Heather seeds are tiny and contained in small, hairy, round capsules.
Image top: Heather, © Dr Amadej Trnkoczy.
Images above, left to right: Heather plant, © Lois M. Landry, & heather flowers close-up, © Dr Amadej Trnkoczy.
Heather in Tasmania
- Heather has been recorded in central Tasmania around Lake Augusta, at Meander in the north, and on Bruny Island and around Kingston in the south. Heather has potential to grow in a range of Tasmanian environments from sea level to upland areas.
- Mature infestations of heather form a dense canopy and persistent leaf litter which can reduce species diversity in native vegetation. Heather has the potential to invade a range of vegetation types including native heaths, grasslands and open forests. Heather also can increase fuel loads and fire risk.
What is the legal status of heather in your area?
What you need to doIf you locate heather anywhere in Tasmania, or if you find a plant that you think could be
heather, immediately contact Biosecurity Tasmania on 03 6165 3777 to report this weed.
Herbicides for Heather Control
Statutory Weed Management Plan for Heather
Weed Links and Resources
Other useful links
Weeds in Australia - Weed Management Guide
Heather Control Guide
- Get in early! Small infestations of heather can be eradicated if they are detected early.
- Don't plant heather in your garden - use an alternative plant instead;
- Don't rely on one effort at removal - follow-up monitoring and control will be required to manage the long-lived seed-bank;
- Don't slash heather - frequent slashing will not kill heather and only encourages re-sprouting;
- Don't burn heather - this can make the infestation worse.
Spread of heather
- Heather reproduces mainly by seed. Seed production can reach one million seeds per square metre.
- The tiny seeds can remain viable for extended periods (up to 100 years) and are spread by wind, animals or walkers brushing against the plants.
- Vegetative reproduction can also take place via a process known as layering, where branches in contact with moist soil can take root and form new plants. Heather also resprouts from surviving stem bases after fire.
Avoid the introduction of heather
- Although it is legal to import and sell heather in Tasmania, use of this weed as an ornamental should be discouraged.
- If you find heather for sale, notify the vendor or state or territory weed control contacts.
- If you have heather in your garden, remove it and replace it with a non-weedy species. There are many native heaths which may be suitable as replacements.
- It is hard to pull or dig up heather because of its fibrous root system. Pieces of roots can also break off and regrow.
- Pulling out the plants can also loosen the soil and release large quantities of seeds, ensuring that heather is usually the first plant to return.
- Frequent slashing will not kill heather and only encourages resprouting.
- Heavy sheep grazing pressure, especially in spring, will suppress new growth and flowering and may eventually eliminate heather after a number of years. Light grazing is not effective.
- Large mature plants may have to be slashed first to give sheep access to new shoots.
- Do not use fire to control heather.
- Fire can make an infestation worse as heather requires high temperature for seed germination. Regular burning of heather can increase the dominance of the weed.
Herbicides for Heather Control