A number of people over the years have asked “when does the heather bloom in Scotland?” so I will try to answer the question here.
The heather that dominates the Scottish hills is ling heather, Calluna vulgaris, one of the heathers in the family Ericaceae. The pale purple to pinkish lilac spikes start flowering in July, with most plants flowering in August, but some continue into September and even October. It is the August flowering that colours the hills most and is what visitors come to see and know as the “heather in bloom” time of year. However, the time of flowering is influenced by latitude and altitude with those plants further south or lower down the hillsides flowering first, with a wave of colour extending north and up the hills. Flowering is also influenced by aspect – heather on south facing slopes blooms earlier than on those facing north. This all means that the heather flowering season is extended far longer than each individual plant, with colour to be seen somewhere in the country over several months – all the better for us !
This is complicated by the fact that another type of heather, Erica cinerea, bright magenta-purple bell heather, tends to have a slightly earlier flowering season and is often growing on the drier places on the hills, in amongst the Calluna, which favours the wetter areas.
Cross-leaved heath, Erica tetralix, with pale pink clusters of flowers at the tips of the branches may also be found on Scottish hills – mainly in wetter areas – but is more rare than ling or bell heather.
For gardens, varieties of both ling and bell heather have been developed that extend this flowering season even further. Ling varieties may be found that vary in flowering from June to November and bell heather varieties can be chosen to have flower all year round.
At Loch Ness we have some spectacular countryside to see the heather in bloom in all its glory and having travelled extensively throughout Scotland over the years, I can honestly say that the very best place I have seen heather in bloom is on the high roads around South Loch Ness in the Errogie, Strathnairn area in July and August.
See Loch Ness Welcome for info about this part of Loch Ness.