The “mountain heathers” in the Phyllodoce genus superficially resemble, but are not true heathers.
Brewer’s mountain heather is a low, spreading shrub that rarely grows above a foot in height. A member of the Heath Family, Brewer’s mountain heather is native to California and is now spreading into Nevada. It can be found from 6,500 to 12,000 feet in the Southern Cascades near Mount Lassen, the Sierra Nevada and the San Bernardino Mountains. Brewer’s mountain heather habitat includes moist but well-drained rocky areas and acid soils near lakes. This shrub also forms ground cover in shady hemlock, red fir and lodgepole pine forests at higher elevations.
The alternate, evergreen leaves of Brewer’s mountain heather are crowded on the branches and encircle the stems. The leaves appear needle-like, but actually the margins are tightly rolled under and cover much of the under-surface of the blade. The rolled leaves are thought to be an adaptation to conserve water.
The rose-purple (sometimes pink) flowers occur in umbels at the end of the stems and are a beautiful sight in late summer. Brewer’s mountain heather flowers are bowl or bell shaped. Each flower has 5 sepals, 5 petals and 10 protruding stamens with large anthers surrounding a yellow superior ovary.
The fruits of Brewer’s mountain heather are spherical capsules that split into 5 cells on maturity to release their seeds.
The genus name, Phyllodoce, was a sea nymph in Greek mythology. William Henry Brewer (1828 – 1910), an American botanist and educator, is honored by the species designation. Red heather is another common name for P. breweri.
I photographed these Brewer’s mountain heather plants near the Bumpus Hell Parking Area in Lassen Volcanic National Park (Lassen County CA) in August.