Erica //, is a genus of roughly 860 species of flowering plants in the family Ericaceae. The English common names "heath" and "heather" are shared by some closely related genera of similar appearance. The genus Calluna was formerly included in Erica – it differs in having even smaller scale-leaves (less than 2–3 mm long), and the flower corolla being consisting of separate petals. Erica is sometimes referred to as "winter (or spring) heather" to distinguish it from Calluna "summer (or autumn) heather".
Most of the species are small shrubs from 20–150 cm (8–59 in) high, though some are taller; the tallest are E. arborea (tree heath) and E. scoparia (besom heath), both of which can reach up to 7 m (23 ft) tall. All are evergreen, with minute, needle-like leaves 2–15 mm long. Flowers are sometimes axillary, and sometimes borne in terminal umbels or spikes, and are usually outward or downward facing. The seeds are very small, and in some species may survive in the soil for decades.
At least 660 of the species are endemic to South Africa, and these are often called the Cape heaths, forming the largest genus in the fynbos. The remaining species are native to other parts of Africa, Madagascar, the Mediterranean, and Europe.
Like most Ericaceae, Erica species are mainly calcifuges, being limited to acidic or very acidic soils. In fact, the term "ericaceous" is frequently applied to all calcifuges, and to the compost used in their cultivation. Soils range from dry, sandy soils to extremely wet ones such as bog. They often dominate dwarf-shrub habitats (heathland and moorland), or the ground vegetation of open acidic woodland.
Erica species are grown as landscape or garden plants for their floral effect. They associate well with conifers and are frequently seen in planting schemes as massed groundcover beneath varieties of dwarf conifers. They are capable of producing flower colour throughout the year. They can also be grown in tubs or window boxes to provide interest through autumn and into winter.
Plants of this genus are eaten mainly by the larvae of many Lepidoptera species, including emperor moth, garden tiger moth, true lover's knot, wormwood pug, and the Coleophora case-bearers C. juncicolella and C. pyrrhulipennella.