Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image
Spanish Heath (Erica lusitanica)

ODA rating: B

Spanish heath risk assessment
Noxious weed listing process

Oregon spanish heath distribution

Other common names
Portuguese heath, Spanish heather

Click on image to view larger photo.

Images courtesy of Ken French, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture

If images are downloaded and used from the ODA web site please be sure to credit the photographer.

Spanish heath is a woody, upright, perennial evergreen shrub, (tree heather) growing up to 10 feet tall (3 m). Leaves are light green, needle like, 3-7 mm long and arranged around the stem in groups (whorls) of three to four. Blooms are a showy mass of small, white to pink, bell (tubular) shaped flowers, with three bracts, four sepals, and a corolla. Plants begin flowering in December and continue until April. Fruit are smooth capsules about 3 mm in diameter containing many, very fine pepper sized seeds. Large plants produce millions of easily transported seeds. These seeds may be wind, water, animal or human transported. Spread could be expected to be rapid.

Spanish heath is a weedy ornamental species of Erica known from only a few sites in Curry and Coos counties in Oregon. First established in Oregon in the 1970’s, at a rare plant nursery near Langlois, it slowly spread for decades until recently, with it’s population now increasing exponentially (Stansell, McKenzie 2008 pers. comm). Growing up to 10’ tall, this species produces up to 9 million seeds per plant (Weeds of Australia, 2007) and is capable of forming dense stands in forest lands, wild areas, pastureland and on right-of-ways and will be a troublesome weed to control, should it be allowed to spread in western Oregon. Spanish heath has infested large areas in Northern California (Humboldt, Del Norte Counties) and is demonstrating a capacity to infest similar habitat in Oregon and Washington. It is well adapted to moist, acidic soils and could infest a wide range of shrub and forest habitats. In California, it is commonly found growing in close association with gorse, Scotch, French broom, and blackberry, especially along utility right of ways, riparian areas, and roadsides (Wood, 2008).In parts of Australia and New Zealand, Spanish heath is a major environmental weed (State of Victoria, 2001). Impacts to parks, wildland and wildlife refuges result from the aggressive growth and competition provided by the plant. In California, Spanish heath is a weed of wild land and forest where it forms dense stands, especially in disturbed areas. Erica provides limited forage for grazing animals and few insects so it grows rapidly with limited herbivore pressure. Other impacts can include reductions in native plant diversity, invasion of riparian areas, competition with conifer and broadleaf tree species and overall degradation of the land base. Currently, Spanish heath infestations in Oregon are rare and impacts are minimal. Because of the experience of land managers in Australia and New Zealand under similar conditions, significant impacts to Oregon’s wild lands, forestlands, pasture and right-of-way could occur. Competition from Erica could significantly impact forest regeneration and productivity, especially in Coos and Curry Counties. Pasture productivity would suffer as edible forage becomes out-competed by this less desirable shrub. Right-of-way maintenance costs would increase in infested areas. Mowing has no long-term impact on the species, and the high seed output would quickly establish dense stands blocking access roads for power lines, reducing line-of-sight on public highways, and increasing the opportunity for roadside fires in areas where herbicide use is restricted. In the cranberry growing region of southwestern Oregon, Erica favors the open ground, dikes, and access roads near cranberry bogs. Increased herbicide use would be required to maintain existing open ground and infrastructure. In all susceptible areas, control costs to contain or eradicate populations would be significant.
Historically the plant was believed to possess medicinal properties. The name Erica derives from the Greek word ereiko meaning to break. This terminology may originate from the theory that the plant could dissolve gallstones; alternatively, it may refer to the fact that the stems are easily broken. (The Heather Society, 2007) The only positive economic benefit is associated with its harvest by the floral industry for use in arrangements mainly around Valentines Day. No other economic use has been noted. This plants native range is from southwest France, north and western Spain and Portugal.It does not occur naturally on the American continent, or the vast majority of Asia, but has naturalized in parts of Australia and New Zealand where it is now viewed as a major environmental weed (The Heather Society, 2007).

Distribution in Oregon
The weed has only been found at seven sites in Oregon with none reported in Washington. California infestations are centered in Humboldt County (especially the Trinidad area) where it is an “A” rated weed, with infestations being reported both in Del Norte and Mendocino Counties. Infestations in Oregon can be traced back to the 1970’s where it was found at a Rare Plant Nursery (now closed) north of Langlois near the Curry/Coos County line. Escaped populations have spread from there approximately 4 miles south and 2 miles north, also west, and east. A separate, small infestation has been confirmed near Nesika Beach, north of Gold Beach.

Biological controls
Biological control agents are not used on "A" listed weeds in Oregon. This weed is being managed for eradication.
Informational links
Spanish heath printable trifold(pdf)