Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Original from Europe, Spanish Heath (Erica lusitanica) is a slender shrub that commonly grows to about 1.5 m tall with many small white  to pinkish bell-shaped flowers.
  • Spanish heath is highly invasive in a variety of habitats including native vegetation, pastures and roadsides in southern and  south-eastern Australia.
  • It is a prolific producer of vast numbers of very fine dust-like seed which is commonly transported along road corridors by vehicles and roadside maintenance equipment.
  • It resembles several Australian native heath species, and care should be taken to correctly identify the plant before control measures are taken.
  • Once a seed bank has formed, several years of follow-up control will be required to eliminate the species from infected areas.
  • A combination of physical and herbicide treatments can be used to control Spanish Heath.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Spanish Heath (Erica lusitanica) is an erect, usually slender shrub that commonly grows to about 1.5 – 2 m tall. Plants growing up to 3 m tall are occasionally seen in ideal protected . The young stems are densely covered in very fine, short, simple (un-branched) hairs. The leaves occur together in whorls of three or four  at the stem nodes, and are small, green and relatively narrow 4–7 mm long, c. 0.5 mm wide, margins entire (without teeth) or finely toothed (minutely denticulate). leaf tip blunted or sharply pointed.

The flowers are small, bell-shaped 4–5 mm long, and white to pinkish in colour, with 4 lobes (petals) rarely 5. Flowers occur in pairs or in clusters of three or four, and are massed together, more or less obscuring the upper branches.

The fruit is a small, ellipsoid capsule, about 3 mm long, and contains numerous tiny seeds (Williams & Chapman 1992; Walsh 1996).

For further information and assistance with identification of Spanish Heath contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

White, Pink

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Spanish Heath occurs as a weed in numerous habitats, including lowland grassland and grassy woodland, dry sclerophyll forest and woodland, damp sclerophyll forest and riparian vegetation (Carr et al. 1992; Benson & McDougall 1995), particularly those with a "Mediterranean" climate, It  also infests heathlands, coastal environments, pastures, roadsides, disturbed sites and waste areas Queensland Government (2016).

 It tolerates a variety of conditions but prefers low-nutrient, acidic soils (Mather & Williams 1990). Disturbance by fire produces ideal conditions for invasion by Spanish Heath (Mather & Williams 1990).

Are there similar species?

Spanish Heath may be confused with several native shrub species, including Monotoca, Leucopogon, Epacris and Lissanthe. These native species can be distinguished from Spanish Heath by their leaves being alternately arranged along the stems as opposed to being grouped in whorls of three to four.  Also see CRC (2007) for further details. 

Other naturalised and cultivated Erica species may be mistaken for Spanish Heath, in particular Tree Heath (Erica arborea). Tree Heath can be differentiated from Spanish Heath by the presence of very small, branched hairs on the younger stems, whereas the hairs on the stems of Spanish Heath are simple (i.e. unbranched). This difference is most easily observed under magnification (Navie 2004; Baker 2007, pers. comm.).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Spanish Heath was included in the list of 71 species that were nominated by state and territory governments for assessment as Weeds of National Significance (WONS). Following an assessment process, Spanish Heath was not included as one of the 20 WoNS. However, it remains a weed of potential national significance. Spanish heath is highly invasive in a variety of habitats including native vegetation, pastures and roadsides.

Native ecosystems: Spanish Heath is a highly invasive plant in higher rainfall districts of south-eastern Australia, and invades various native ecosystems including heathlands, grassy woodlands, moist forest and riparian areas (Carr et al. 1992; Muyt 2001). It is capable of completely dominating the shrub canopy of invaded habitats, preventing virtually all regeneration of native species. It is usually associated with disturbed habitats but can also establish in undisturbed bush (Muyt 2001). It has the potential to actively invade and expand within native vegetation of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and adjacent areas, and in doing so, alter the natural ecology of the area (Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service 2004). It is regarded as a very serious threat to one or more vegetation formations in Victoria (Carr et al. 1992). 

Agriculture: It forms dense stands on roadsides and in paddocks, totally excluding other vegetation. Such large infestations increase fuel loads and add to fire hazards.

How does it spread?

Spanish Heath reproduces by seed, of which it is a prolific producer. A single plant may produce up to 9 million seeds per year. Seed viability exceeds 50% and remains so for at least four years (Mather & Williams 1990).

As seeds are very small, they may be dispersed by winds, such as those produced by passing vehicular traffic, and can be easily picked up and transported on vehicles and machinery. Infestations commonly spread along roadside corridors and from there into adjacent bushland or pastures (Muyt 2001). The millions of tiny seeds that Spanish heath plants produce are also dispersed short distances by gravity, water, wind, vehicle and slashing or soil movement. Long distance dispersal is generally a result of human activity—planting in gardens, commercial cultivation, or inadvertent transport of soil containing seeds to new locations (CRC 2007).

What is its history in Australia?

Spanish Heath was most likely introduced to Australia as a garden plant, although no records have been found to substantiate this claim. According to herbarium records, it was first recorded as naturalised in Australia in 1916 at both Beaconsfield and Wheelers Hill in the Gippsland Plain, Victoria. It was naturalised in Tasmania by 1944, New South Wales by 1945, South Australia by 1947 and more recently in the Australian Capital Territory in 1994 and Western Australia in 2013 (AVH 2021).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Spanish Heath and Ericas in general can be difficult to control as they layer, resprout and produce many seeds, with all these helping the species re-generate after initial control.  Follow up control and integrated control over time is required to manage this weed.  

Non-chemical control: Small plants and seedlings can be hand-pulled, ensuring the main roots have been removed. The cut-paint method can be effective and may be enhanced by peeling or cutting away the outer bark on stumps, followed by an application of a suitable herbicide to the exposed areas of sapwood. Preventing seed production can be achieved by slashing plants close to the ground level in autumn/early winter, before the main flush of flowers occurs. Only heavy grazing of seedlings will be effective in controlling Spanish Heath (Mather & Williams 1990). Also see CRC (2007); 

Chemical control: Regrowth should be sprayed with a suitable herbicide in the following year. Depending upon the site conditions and size and density of the infestations, a combination of techniques may be required. Follow-up control will, in all cases, be necessary for several years. For further information on the control of Spanish Heath, see CRC (2007); DPIPWE Tasmania (2020); Muyt (2001); NSW (2019).

Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Seed may germinate at any time of the year. However, the survival of seedlings is dependent upon the availability of adequate moisture. Seedlings formed in spring and autumn have the greatest chance of survival (Mather & Williams 1990). Flower buds are usually formed in autumn, and plants are generally in full flower by spring. Mature seed is produced and shed from early summer onwards (Mather & Williams 1990). Plants need to be at least three years old before flowering can commence (Mather & Williams 1990). Vegetative growth of Spanish Heath occurs throughout the year, but may slow or stop during very cold weather or seasonally hot, dry periods (Muyt 2001). Plants re-shoot vigorously when burnt, grazed, slashed or damaged by frost (Mather & Williams 1990; Muyt 2001). For a detailed discussion on the timing of flowering and vegetative growth see Mather & Williams (1990).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

In Australia, extensive Spanish Heath infestations occur in southern Victoria and Tasmania, with locally abundant populations in South Australia and New South Wales (Muyt 2001). 

In Tasmania, it is widespread throughout the state and, although under management, of particular concern are its occurrences in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area where it is found along the Gordon Road and at the township of Strathgordon (Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service 2004).

In Victoria, it occurs particularly in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne but is scattered elsewhere and is increasing in range (e.g. from Heywood in the far south-west, to Orbost in the east and Beechworth in the north-east) (Walsh 1996). 

In New South Wales, it is locally abundant, chiefly in the Blue Mountains and Central Tablelands. (Harden 1992; Muyt 2001). 

In South Australia, it occurs in the south-eastern region between Culburra and Bordertown, and is also recorded in the Southern Lofty region (State Herbarium of South Australia 2007).

A single collection exists from south-west WA from a road reserve (AVH 2021).

It is also naturalised in New Zealand, where it is widespread and abundant throughout the wetter parts of the North and South Islands (Roy et al. 2004).

Where does it originate?

Spanish Heath is native to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and south-western France (Fagundez & Izco 2005).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Erica lusitanica

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

Portuguese Heath, Heath

Other Management Resources

Blackberry – a community-driven approach in Victoria

Blackberry the weed (Rubus fruticosus aggregate) was first introduced to Australia by European settlers in the mid-1800s as a fruit. It was recognised as a weed by mid-1880s. Blackberry is a serious issue across Australia. It is estimated that blackberry infests approximately 8.8 million hectares of land at an estimated cost of $103 million in annual control and production losses.

Read Case Study