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Book cover - Common Weeds of New ZealandAn Illustrated Guide to
Common Weeds
of New Zealand


Calluna vulgaris


Calluna vulgaris - heatherReproduced from
Common Weeds of New Zealand
by Ian Popay, Paul Champion & Trevor James
ISBN 0 473 09760 5
by kind permission of the
New Zealand Plant Protection Society

Publication or other use of images or descriptive text on these pages is unauthorised unless written permission is obtained from the authors and publisher.
Appropriate acknowledgement of the publication Common Weeds of New Zealand must always be given.

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Bushy, tough, woody, evergreen perennial shrub up to 50 cm tall. Small, pale purple, bell-shaped flowers in summer make dense stands of the plant very attractive. Small, stalkless leaves in four vertical rows on the branches. Especially common, and a major problem, in National Parks.

  • Flowers Pale purple, bell-shaped corolla of four petals joined into a tube about 2 mm in diameter. The four purple sepals, 2-4 mm long, are longer than the corolla. The flowers are on a narrow, leafy raceme up to 9 cm long, growing in leaf axils on the upper shoots. Flowers Dec-Mar.
  • Fruit Tiny, hairy, round capsules with four cells. Seeds strongly-meshed, up to 0.7 mm long.
  • Leaves Oblong, up to 3.5 mm long, hairless but sometimes downy, overlap in four vertical rows on the twigs. They are dark green, but later turn brown.
  • Stems Wiry, pliable, woody. Young growth initially densely hairy, later becoming hairless.


Poor undeveloped grassland on acid soils.


Common on pumice soils of Volcanic Plateau and at Te Aroha and Mt. Egmont National Park in NI. In SI at Hokitika, Mt. Cook, Queenstown and Te Anau, and on Campbell Island. Originally from Europe, Asia Minor and north Africa.


Often cultivated in gardens by early settlers, it was deliberately planted at one time in Tongariro National Park, and established well. Efforts have been made to introduce biological control agents, so far without success. Subject to Pest Plant Management Strategies in several regions of NZ. Listed on the National Pest Plant Accord (see Introduction for details).

Related species

Bell heather (Erica cinerea) is well established in Tongariro National Park, also Opotiki and South Canterbury, distinguished by needle-like leaves in whorls of four, and larger, 6 mm long, bell-shaped flowers. Berry heath (Erica baccans) is occasionally found from Kaitaia to north of Kaipara Harbour, and on Great Barrier Island. Its leaves are in whorls of four, and it is distinguished from bell heather by the ridges and depressions of the corolla tube. Tree heath (Erica arborea) can form a small tree up to 5 m tall, with densely hairy shoots, and white flowers, 2.5-4 mm long. Occurs in scrub and low forest, especially near roadsides, scattered in NI from Auckland southwards, also in Nelson, Dunedin. Hedge heath (Erica caffra) is a woolly hairy shrub, with fragrant, white to pinkish flowers that are 5.5-7 mm long. Occurs in hillside scrub in Auckland, Te Aroha (Waikato), Athenree (Bay of Plenty) and Wellington.

Derivation of botanical name

Calluna (Gr.) = to cleanse, since it was once used for making brooms; vulgaris (Lat.) = common.


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Web-notes: Weed Links

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External Links

WeedbustersWeedbusters New Zealand
Weedbusters is a weeds awareness and education programme that aims to protect New Zealand's environment from the increasing weed problem.
A free tool to assist farmers and agricultural professionals in decision-making regarding weed and pest identification, biology, impact and management.
Weed keyNew Zealand Weeds Key
An interactive identification key to the weeds of New Zealand. Developed at Landcare Research.

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network naturalised plants
Search for information on more than 2500 naturalised and weedy plants.
NZ Plant Protection SocietyNew Zealand Plant Protection Society
Their main objective: "To pool and exchange information on the biology of weeds, invertebrate and vertebrate pests, pathogens and beneficial organisms and methods for modifying their effects."
Massey UniversityMassey University Weeds Database
A site providing information about New Zealand weeds and weed control. It has a series of pages showing pictures of New Zealand weeds, notes on identification and control. It also provides information on a university paper entitled Controlling Weeds.

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Last updated: March 1, 2021