The Ericaceous Shrub complex is most often dominated by white-flowered rhododendron. Other common species are false azalea, black huckleberry, and oval-leaved blueberry. Although this community is composed mainly of shrubs, herbs such as Sitka valerian and fireweed may be present in the understorey and in gaps between shrub patches. If gaps are large, the Ericaceous Shrub and Subalpine Herb complexes can occur in an intermixed pattern. The Ericaceous Shrub complex occurs on dry to moist sites within the wetter ESSF and upper ICH biogeoclimatic zones. It can be found on poor to rich sites.
Ericaceous shrubs are often present under the ESSF forest canopy, and although they do not spread quickly, the Ericaceous Shrub complex can become the dominant plant community following logging. This is particularly true on sites where the community was well developed prior to harvest, such as in gaps associated with very old, high elevation ESSF forests. Ericaceous shrubs are negatively affected by disturbance to the forest floor, so this complex is most likely to thrive on winter-logged sites where stems have been protected by the snowpack. After logging, the plant community spreads vegetatively rather than by seed. Rhododendron spreads via rhizomes, by sprouting from the root crown and adventitious buds, and by layering. False azalea sprouts from the root crown and may also spread by layering. The Vaccinium species spread by rhizomes. In southern interior British Columbia, the Ericaceous Shrub complex commonly attains heights of 1-2 m.
This community can seriously impede conifer seedling survival and early growth because the dense vegetation canopy reduces light availability at seedling height and prevents soils from warming above critical thresholds for uptake of water and nutrients. The springy stems of ericaceous shrubs can also cause physical damage to young seedlings. Competition from the Ericaceous Shrub complex is most problematic on cool, steep, north-facing slopes.
An example of the Ericaceous Shrub complex after 10 years of development.