Whereas conifers predominate in the canopy of our forests, members of the heath family dominate the understory of our forests, our wetlands, and alpine regions. This large family of plants lives in almost every part of the world. The petals of ericaceous flowers are fused at the base, usually forming a tube. They are usually pollinated by hummingbirds, bees and other insects. Most ericaceous plants are found in acidic, humusy soil and often depend upon fungal mycorrhiza for successful growth. Many genera are important in the field of horticulture.
Erica (Heath) and Daboecia (Irish Heath)
Phyllodoce* and Cassiope* (Mountain Heathers)
Rhododendron* (includes azaleas)
Gaultheria* (Salal, Wintergreen, Pernettya)
Vaccinium* (Blueberries, Huckleberries, Cranberries, Lingonberries)
Arbutus* (Madrone and Strawberry Tree)
Arctostaphylos* (Manzanitas, Kinnikinnick or Bearberry)
Ledum* (Labrador Tea)
Kalmia* (Mountain Laurel or Bog Laurel)
Menziesia* (False Huckleberry or Fool’s Azalea)
Pieris (Andromeda or Lily of the Valley Shrub)
Leucothoe (Sierra Laurel)
Oxydendrum (Sourwood, Sorrel Tree)
* Includes species that are native to the Pacific Northwest
Also in this family are unusual plants that are parasitic on the mycorrhiza associated with conifers. They have no chlorophyll of their own and get their food from these fungi that in turn get their sustenance from the trees towering above them. These plants are known as mycoparasites, mycoheterotrophs, or epiparasites. Our native species have whimsical common names, including Indian Pipe, Pinesap, Pinedrops, Candystick, and Gnome-plant. It is not uncommon to run across their fascinating inflorescences emerging from a dark forest floor.