The Woodland Education Centre
Heathland Project Report Introduction List of Summary Points Summary
Life Cycle Stages and Succession
left: heather is slowly being restored to the Heathland Restoration site. The heather is currently in the pioneer phase of development.
The life cycle of Heather (Calluna vulgaris), the dominant plant of heathlands, can be described in terms of four main stages. These are: pioneer; building; mature and degenerate.
The pioneer phase lasts 5 - 6 years, from seedling development and establishment until the plant has developed into a fully formed bush.
The building phase lasts until the plant is about 15 years old, when the bush-like form is well-established.
The mature phase continues until the plant is about 25 years old. Growth takes place much as in the building phase, although gradually it becomes less vigorous and towards the end of the phase, the centre of the bush begins to open and branches grow on the soil surface.
The degenerate phase, leading to death, is entered into after 30 years. The active growth of the leading shoots declines and the plant canopy continues to open and exposes more ground.
Where succession to woodland is checked, a mixed age structure of heather develops and plants representing all phases are distributed throughout the vegetation. Where large areas are destroyed (for example, through fire) large homogeneous areas of vegetation where all the plants belong to one phase (having the same age and structure) develop. The structural changes taking place in the Heather community have profound effects on the development of other species, considerably altering such factors as microclimate and available bare ground for colonization. This can be translated into comparable stages in the development of heathland.
left: heather on the Heathland Restoration site.
In the pioneer phase, Heather cover is small and other species of vascular plants reach their greatest abundance. In the building phase, Heather excludes all other species. By the mature phase, bryophytes (mainly mosses) colonize the soil surface because of increased humidity beneath the closed canopy. Bryophytes reach their maximum abundance in the degenerate phase and as the canopy becomes more open and bare ground appears, other species of vascular plants and Heather seedlings are able to re-establish. (Webb)Continue to dominant species table
Other Lowland Heaths in East Devon