Flora of Northern Ireland


KearneyA heath is an area of land (upland or lowland) covered by vegetation in which the dominant plants are dwarf shrubs such as heathers (Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea, Erica tetralix), whin (or gorse, Ulex spp.), broom (Cytisus scoparius), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) etc. Upland heaths and upland grassland are also loosely grouped together as moorland.

Grazing, tree-cutting or burning will prevent heath from developing into scrub or woodland, especially in lowland heaths where there is a natural tendency to develop into birch woodland. On the other hand, over-grazing destroys the heathers and converts the heath into a grassland, such as the mat-grass (Nardus stricta) dominated grassland areas of many of Northern Ireland's upland regions (Sperrin Mountains, Mourne Mountains etc.). Small areas of heath dominated by juniper (Juniperus communis) are found on limestone or basalt. Heaths dominated by whin, or gorse (Ulex europaeus and Ulex gallii) frequently develop on old pasture on which grazing has ceased.

Ulex heath at BallymacormickHeaths normally develop on acidic soils in a variety of situations such as on the drier parts of raised bogs, blanket peat, sandy soils (including old dunes) and as an under-storey in woodland.

Wet heaths

These are dominated by purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea), deer-grass (Trichophorum cespitosum), cotton-grasses (Eriophorum spp.), bog myrtle (Myrica gale) and black bog-rush (Schoenus nigricans). There is no clear defining line to separate this type of vegetation from bogs.