Most of the more than 1,900 Ericaceae (Heath) family plant species are woody, alternately branching ground covers, shrubs or small trees, according to Penn State University's Department of Horticulture. Flowers on these acid-loving plants may be single or clustered. Blooms typically have joined petals that number half their stamens. The shallow-rooted plants need consistent summer watering. Many depend on soil fungi (mychorrizae) to help them absorb moisture and nutrients.
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a summer-blooming, broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree. Heavy clusters of bell-shaped, pale pink blooms cover its strong, spreading limbs in June and July. The plants grow on forested slopes and meadows from New England west to Ohio and south to Alabama. Glossy, oval leaves give mountain laurel four seasons of interest. Pale green upon emerging, they're deep green during summer and purple by autumn. The 12- to 20-foot plant grows in cool locations with partial shade and moist, sandy or rocky soil. Ingesting any part of the plants may be fatal, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Spreading trailing arbutus (Epigea repens) stands between 4 and 6 inches tall. Sharing its native range with mountain laurel, it brings delightfully scented leaves and blossoms to woods and clearings throughout the Eastern United States. Between March and May, its stems have clusters of trumpet-like, white or pale pink flowers. White berries that follow add to its appeal. This perennial likes partial to deep shade and well-drained, acidic humusy soil. Intolerant of floods or drought, it may be one of the Ericacea family plants dependent on mycorrhizae, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Like mountain laurel, sand myrtle (Leiophyllum buxifolium) is a heavily branching, evergreen shrub. Happiest in cool mountains or sandy barrens, it stands 18 inches to 3 feet tall. Dense, dark green glossy foliage contrasts with clusters of May and June flowers. Emerging as deep pink buds, they open to pink-edged white blossoms. Sand myrtle likes consistently moist, acidic (pH below 6.8) soil and partial shade, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It suffers in drought.
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is an exceptionally hardy Ericaceae family perennial. Native to USDA plant hardiness zones 2 though 6, it handles minimal winter temperatures between minus 50 and minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Bearberry spreads by rooting where its stems touch the ground. Given enough time, it covers large areas with 6-inch to 1-foot high branches of glossy, deep green foliage. Between April and May, nodding stems bear clusters of pinkish-white flowers. From late summer throughout the winter, its brilliant red berries feed birds and other wildlife--including bears. Bearberry thrives in infertile locations with full sun to partial shade. It likes acidic, sandy soil.