Common Heath or Epacris Impressa

Floral Emblem of Victoria

Representatives of interested Victorian government departments, societies and individuals met on 18 September 1951 and unanimously agreed on Common Heath as the State floral emblem. The pink form of Common Heath, Epacris impressa, was proclaimed the floral emblem of Victoria on 11 November 1958. Victoria was the first Australian State to give official recognition to such an emblem.

Common Heath was collected in Tasmania in 1793 by the French botanist, Jacques-Julien Houton de Labillardiere during his voyage with Bruny D'Entrecasteaux on the unsuccessful search for the missing explorer, La Perouse. Following Bruny's death in July 1793, royalist officers of La Recherche and LEspirance, handed the ships to the Dutch in Java, where Labillardiere, a republican, was imprisoned from October 1793 to March 1795. When he returned to France he found that his plant collection of more than 4000 specimens had been sent to England as a prize of war. Through the diplomacy of Sir Joseph Banks the specimens were eventually returned to their collector. Epacris impressa was described by Labillardiere in 1805.

The generic name Epacris is derived from the Greek 'epi', meaning 'upon', and 'akris', meaning 'a hill', referring to the elevated habitat of some species. The specific name impressa, Latin for 'impressed' or 'indented', refers to five dimples on the outside of the basal part of the floral tube. Epacris contains about forty species of evergreen shrubs which occur mainly in temperate eastern Australia and to a minor extent in New Zealand. The family Epacridaceae, the Australian heath family, is distributed mainly in Australia and New Zealand. It is closely related to the Ericaceae, the much larger heather and azalea family which has a greater occurrence in the Northern Hemisphere.

Common Heath is a slender, upright shrub which grows to about a metre in height. The rigid, alternate leaves are stalkless and fairly narrow. They range from 4 to 16 mm in length and are sharply pointed. The tubular flowers up to 25 mm long are arranged singly in the leaf axils and are often so densely packed around the stem that the cluster of flowers assumes a cylindrical brushlike appearance. On other specimens flowers may be sparse and arranged on only one side of the stem. Flowering occurs from late autumn to late spring, reaching a peak in winter. The fruit is a capsule which splits to release minute seeds. Common Heath has many colour forms including pure white, pale pink, rose pink, crimson, scarlet and rare double flowered forms, but the pink form is the one chosen and proclaimed as Victoria's floral emblem. The Grampians Heath, Epacris impressa var. grandiflora, which has wider rosy-crimson flowers and coarser downy greyish foliage, is confined to the Grampian Mountains of western Victoria.

Common Heath occurs in coastal heathlands as well as in montane and sub-alpine areas. It is distributed from Clyde River, New South Wales to the Mt Lofty Ranges in South Australia. In Victoria it occurs in coastal regions and adjoining foothills, the Grampians and the Little Desert. It is also common in Tasmania. Go next page