The name, Erica arborea, comes from the Latin “arboreus”, because the plant is a shrub that can take the features and dimensions of a small tree, since it can be up to six meters high. In particular, the male plant gives rise to only one large main branch, the female can have more than one.
The inflorescences are white and the ease of cultivation makes the heather an excellent plant also for ornamental use.
The part of the Erica arborea from which the plaques are obtained (on which we will return with a specific deepening) of briar from which to make the pipes is the so-called “ciocco”, that part largely buried from which they depart, on one side , the branches and, on the other, the roots.
The male generally gives rise to a single main branch, the female also to two or three.
For this reason, in general, the artisans prefer to use plates obtained from male plants, because the log of the female plant, giving rise to more large ramifications, has a more irregular internal vein and, in general, more gnarled.
In general, from the female plants are obtained smaller plates or drafts, suitable for small pipes, perhaps to be rusticated and of which, therefore, does not matter the wood grain.
The type of the Erica arborea root, obviously, changes a lot depending on the area in which it is quarried, as each plant is influenced by the quality of the soil and climatic factors.
Is hard to say which are the best roots, the Italian ones are very quoted, but each craftsman has their own ideas on the subject and succeeds to make excellent pipes using the most varied roots.
Much depends not only on the characteristics of the wood, but also on how it was treated by a quarryman and a sawmill; in fact, an experienced quarryman is able to identify with a good margin of certainty the best plaques for position (how they have been exposed every day in the sun, orientation, etc.), size and quality, so as to guess if they can have just inside more or less impurities (pebbles englobed by the plant, small roots, etc.).
Moreover, the briar, before being handed over to the artisans, must be treated where it has been quarried: the sawmill, therefore, the size according to their own knowledge and the requests of their customers (the ways can be the most varied), makes it boil because the boiling removes the tannin that makes the wood bitter (and the water in which the briar is boiled, due to the tannin, takes on an intense red color) and then puts it to dry at least six months. All in the same area (so with the same climate) in which it has fared.
Also the modalities and the time of both boiling and drying, clearly, influence the quality of the root.
So, it is true that many argue that the best roots are those of the temperate zones of the Mediterranean basin, but, as mentioned, the factors that can influence the quality are many and, therefore, it is not really possible, regardless, to determine which be the best wood.
And then there is the aging stage at the artisan and here the theories are even more varied: if most of the artisans agree that it takes at least a couple of years, but some use wood aged even twenty years, on The most suitable methods and environments are many and contrasting ideas. Just as there are different methods applied to understand when a plate can be worked to make a pipe.
Some slam two plates against each other and, from the sound, they understand how dried they are in the right place, others have devised original and complex systems, but absolutely effective: Joao Madail – Scorpius Pipe – for example, weighs the plates periodically. When he finds that the weight remains constant for three consecutive measurements at a distance of a few months from each other, he knows that the plate is dry at the right point and can be worked.