Usually called heather, heath looks similar but is in a different genus; heath is Erica while heather is Calluna. The heaths that are usually found in flower shops may be Erica persoluta, Erica canaliculata, or one of the many hybrids and cultivars that are available. Although heaths are generally associated with Scotland, the ones sold in the floristry trade is native to South Africa but is grown commercially in California. The prime season for most heaths/heathers is November through April, so they are available in good supply for the holidays and Valentine’s Day. The bright pink selections are especially pretty with red roses.
Heather/heath should be purchased with the flowers full and brightly colored. If some of the flowers at the bottom of the stem are dying, just remove them. Cut an inch or two off the stems, strip off the lower leaves that will be submerged, and place them in a solution of flower food. Heather dries out quickly so check water levels daily. Since heather is field grown is may have dirt and microorganisms attached, so change water often as it becomes murky. The flowers and leaves are dense and will mold unless the air circulation is good, so arrange the stems loosely.
The spike-like clusters of bell-shaped flowers are available in pinks, purples, whites, yellows, and green. They can be used as a filler, or accent, and in wreaths and door swags. Tall varieties can be used in line designs. Heather dries well with no special treatment and can be left in arrangements to air dry. The color will deepen but unfortunately the flowers will drop when touched unless treated with a commercial fixative spray (try hair spray in a pinch).
In The Language of Flowers heather can mean admiration, wishes come true, protection from danger and good luck. Combine it in a bouquet with red roses (I love you), or red carnations (deep passionate love) to send a message of devotion or with mums (optimism) and laurel (success) to wish good luck. Don’t worry if the recipient doesn’t understand the message, there is a certain delight in just sending it.