Prickly heath

Green with fantastic large pearl-like berries

Beautiful evergreen foliage with fantastic berries like marbles: prickly heath is an asset to brighten up your garden and patio for months. 

Prickly heath - officially called Pernettya - is an evergreen low shrub with small leaves. These are a shiny dark green, which contrasts beautifully during the flowering in May and June with the clusters of small, generally white bell-shaped flowers. Those flowers then turn to beautiful eye-catching large berries which remain on the plant for a long time like clusters of pearls. The berries can be white, lilac, pink, crimson, brilliant pink, dark red and white with pink spots, depending on the variety. Prickly heath can be planted in the ground, where  it grows as groundcover. However, the plant also looks great in containers and pots, which shows off the fabulous berries even better. 

This Latino thrives in the shade   

Prickly heath is native to the south of Argentina and Chile down to Tierra del Fuego. It grows in extensive fields there. The plant is a member of the heather family, and is a sister of the checkerberry. Prickly heath grows sideways, with a diameter of some 1.5 metres in the wild. The cultivated version stays much smaller. It shares its wild sibling's characteristic of remaining compact in the sun, and spreading in the shade where it needs more pruning. 

Perfect feature in an autumn garden 

Thanks to the strong colour combination of white and green, prickly heath is very good for bringing winter style to the garden. The plant looks cool and regal in robust grey. It's trendy and warm in white or copper-coloured bowls. And with a red base it looks classic. Planted in containers, the white berries of the fairly low plants combine beautifully with swaying grass and ivy to bring some movement to your arrangement. 

Fantastic courtship 

Only the female plant wears berries like pearls in the autumn. She can be identified by her white flowers with a pistil; Mr. Prickly Heath only has stamens. If you want the plant to last, make sure you buy at least one male plant together with a number of ladies in the spring. The male is incredibly virile; he can fertilise up to thirty female prickly heath plants on his own. The male plants can be placed alongside the ladies, but will also cope with a distance of a few metres. The wind and bees will then do the rest. Only when the flowers have been fertilised will they grow into beautiful coloured berries in the summer which continue to give colour all through the autumn and winter. In the autumn female plants are on sale ready-fertilised, complete with berries, which is convenient. 

Prickly heath trivia 

  • The plant's official name is Pernettya mucronata.

  • Prickly heath is the most common plant above the tree line in the volcanic regions of southern Chile.

  • The wild berries can be eaten by birds. The cultivated version is not suitable for human consumption.

  • The name is derived from the Latin word 'Perneo', which means to spin around. The word refers to the round berries which are as large as marbles.