Description: Shrubs to trees.
Leaves evergreen or deciduous, alternate, decussate, 3- or 4(6)-whorled or pseudowhorled, ericoid, or non-ericoid, revolute or convolute in bud, margin entrie to serrulate or serrulate-ciliate. Leaf epidermal cells not lignified. Indumentum of unbranched, variously branched, peltate, or scalelike, glandular to non-glandular hairs and sometimes papillae.
Inflorescences terminal or axillary, racemose, spicate, corymbose, umbellate, fasciculate, capitate or of solitary flowers; bracts and bracteoles extremely various; flower articulated or continuous with pedicel. Flowers usually 4–7(-9)-merous, actinomorphic or slightly zygomorphic, sometimes variably reduced and wind pollinated, with a distinct calyx and corolla or perianth parts ± undifferentiated, pendulous to erectly held. Calyx lobes (or sepals) usually 1–7, or lacking, variable in size, persistent or deciduous; corolla choripetalous or more commonly sympetalous, and variously shaped, persistent or deciduous, with the usually 1–7 lobes small to large. Stamens 2–15, included or sometimes exserted, the filaments straight to curved or S-shaped, distinct or connate, unicellular-pubescent or glabrous (and smooth); anthers tetrasporangiate, inverting early in development, variably roughened or smooth, with or without endothecium, dehiscing by terminal pores or longitudinal slits. Pollen in tetrads, with viscin threads present or absent. Ovary 1–14-locular, with axile placentation, superior; style gradually tapered or impressed; stigma truncate, capitate, peltate, cup shaped, funnel shaped, or strongly lobed, considerably enlarged in wind pollinated species.
Fruit a septicidal to loculicidal capsule, indescent pod, or drupe; seeds with variable testa cells; embryo with 2 cotyledons.
Distribution and occurrence: World: 65 genera, c. 1550 species, cosmopolitan except for arid and semi-arid regions. Australia: 5 genera, 18 or 9 species, Qld, N.S.W., Vic., Tas.
Representatives from various genera are widely cultivated, either as food crops, including species of Vaccinium (cranberries, bilberries and blueberries), or as ornamentals, such as species of Rhododendron, Erica, Pieris and Andromeda.
Text by J. M. Powell, except for groups with contributors listed
Taxon concept: From Kron et al. (2002) Phylogenetic classification of Ericaceae: molecular and morphological evidence. The Botanical Review 68: 335-423.
Taxa not yet included in identification key