Thursday, June 2, 2011

Meeting the Heaths

Wetland in Northern Michigan

Time in Michigan allowed me a chance to meet more of the Heath family.
Nope, not the people...the plants.
These members of Ericaceae, whose species number over 3300 worldwide, are primarily small shrubs, often with leathery or resinous evergreen leaves. And because they dislike limey soils, they’re not likely to be found where I spend most of my time hiking, the till plain of the southwestern Ohio River Basin.
Heaths prefer the cooler temperate regions—the acidic soil of primarily oak woods or the sphagnum mats of (acidic) bogs.

Sedge Wren beside a Wetland

Some are cultivated as ornamentals. You may have rhododendrons or azaleas in your yard. Others are prized for their delectable fruit. Blueberries and cranberries, the flavorful and antioxidant-rich "superfruits," are members of the Heath family, as well.

But I fell in love with bog rosemary and leatherleaf, whose creamy white urn-shaped flowers hung in clusters at the tip or along the stem of fine, scratchy branches beside a wetland in northern Michigan.

Chamaedaphne calyculata

Bog Rosemary,
Andromeda polifolia

Bog Rosemary in flower

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Bearberry in flower

Bearberry in fruit (autumn)

The small, round leaves of Bearberry were dried and smoked as tobacco by Native Americans.

Labrador Tea,
Ledum groenlandicum

Labrador Tea in flower

In the James Bay and Hudson Bay areas, the leaves of Labrador Tea were dried and brewed as tea.

Lowbush Blueberry,
Vaccinium angustifolium

Blueberry in flower

Do you see a family resemblance?

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Susan Gets Native said...

Okay, from the botany idiot:
I see a resemblance...all of them have small white, upside-downy flowers, and all the leaves look "waxy' or coated.
I've only seen bog rosemary, in Cranberry Glade. Laying on the boardwalk with my nose in one of them. :)

catharus said...

I wasn't aware of all these members of the heaths. Thanks for the post and pictures, and always, your poetic verse!

Guy said...

Hi Nina

The Sedge Wren with the spiderwebs was outstanding. I have never seen Bog Rosemary, Leatherleaf or Bear Berry, the tiny bell like flowers are just wonderful and you have really captured the family resembalance. A great series of photos.


KaHolly said...

Bogs have to be my favorite habitat to explore. You've captured the plants wonderfully. They are all native to my area and I even have some in my own little 'wet meadow'. ~karen

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Karen, you're fortunate to have these little beauties so close at hand. I may have seen some in my previous life (I'm a native nor'easter) but now they're a treat that I must drive way up north to reunite with!

Yep, Susan, you've used your good skill of observation with these little heaths. The upside-downy flowers (might be called urceolate=urn-shaped or campanulate=bell-shaped) and are an easy ID. And because most are evergreen and growing in tough northern climes, that resinous leaf serves them well, holds them through a sometimes short growing season.
Yay, heaths!