Scentropia dark blue heliotrope

HELIOTROPIUM ARBORESCENS

Heliotrope, or Heliotropium arborescens, is a sweetly scented flower loaded with little purple blossoms that grows as an annual or perennial, depending upon location.

The Greek word “helios” means “sun,” and “tropos,” turn. The name is derived from its habit of turning to face the sun, a characteristic which all “heliotropic” plants exhibit.

In addition to its interesting nomenclature, this plant is classified as a shrubby perennial, or sub-shrub of the borage family of trees, shrubs, and herbs that are often bluish and fuzzy-leafed.

Its colors range from purple to white, and its clustered five-lobe flowers resemble those of the forget-me-not. Some reach over four feet in height, but dwarf varieties top out at approximately 15 inches.

An Aroma Reminiscent of Grandma’s Kitchen

Also called the common heliotrope, or garden heliotrope, its humble name belies an exceptional fragrance that has been described as cherry-almond-vanilla.

This plant is of a temperate nature, meaning that it can’t withstand harsh weather extremes. In my area of the Northeast, heliotropes grow as tender annuals. This means that even a touch of frost spells disaster.

Elsewhere in the world, they are tropical perennials. This is how they were growing when they were discovered in the eighteenth century and brought to Europe. Soon their essence was the stuff of perfumes and their beauty formed the backdrop for romance in lush cottage gardens.

Cultivating a Cottage Garden Icon

The best way to grow heliotropes is to start seeds indoors as winter ends, around February/March, and then transfer them to the garden after all danger of frost has passed.

They like sun, but can tolerate part shade, and do best in soil that is moderately moist, but well-drained. They do well in flower beds, and look particularly attractive placed in proximity to contrasting orange day lilies.

In addition to starting from seed, you may cut a leaflet from an existing plant, place it in water until it roots, and transplant it to the garden.

Sprouted leaflets may also be potted and enjoyed inside all winter, bedded outside in spring after all danger of frost has passed, or kept indoors year-round as houseplants.

You may also dig up entire plants before summer’s end, prune spent blossoms and ragged lower leaves, and pot in fresh potting soil for display indoors.

You may take indoor cultivation a step further if you are artistically inclined, and try your hand at topiary by crafting a miniature tree from your shrubby plant.

Select one stem for a trunk, or “standard,” as is often done with roses. Prune the leaves away from this stem, and allow the top to become bushy, shaping it into a round form over time. The result is an attractive mini-tree of lush foliage and flowers.

In warm climates, you may try topiary pruning outdoors.

The Care and Feeding of a Vintage Treasure

Heliotropes like to be nurtured with warmth and nutrients, so if you’re growing them indoors, keep them out of cold drafts.

Provide nourishment in the form of a slow-acting all-purpose plant food to both indoor and outdoor plants, per manufacturer’s instructions.

Heliotrope: Plant Facts

  • Easy to grow
  • Hardy perennial in warmer zones 10 and 11
  • Moderately moist, well-drained amended soil
  • Propagate from seeds or cuttings
  • Sun to part shade
  • Tender annual in colder climates; may be overwintered indoors.
  • Up to four feet in height
  • Dwarf varieties available
  • Does well in pots

To keep plants bushy and attractive, prune leggy stems. When a cluster of flowers has finished blooming, remove the entire stem to retain shape, energize the plant, and encourage reblooming.

Where to Buy?

4 inch potted plants are available from Hirt’s Gardens on Amazon.
Seeds for an extreme dwarf version are also available from Outsidepride via Amazon.

Plant, Propagate, and Enjoy this Summer

Are you ready to add a touch of vintage charm to your garden this summer? Or to your kitchen windowsill for year-round cheer?

Visit your local nursery in person or online, and sow some seeds or bed some plants today!

We love to hear from our readers. Have you planted heliotropes in your garden yet? Tell us in the comments below.

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About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

Heliotrope Care: Tips For Growing A Heliotrope Plant

Cherry Pie, Mary Fox, White Queen — they all refer to that old, cottage garden beauty, Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens). Hard to find for many years, this little darling is making a comeback. Heliotrope flowers were a favorite in grandmother’s garden and heliotrope care a regular part of her summer routine. She knew what many modern gardeners forgot.

Growing a heliotrope plant brings satisfaction to the gardener not only in its dense cluster of delicate flowers, but in its delicious aroma. Some people claim it’s the scent of vanilla, but my vote has always gone to its common namesake, cherry pie.

Heliotrope Flowers

These sweethearts are temperate perennials usually grown as annuals and growing a heliotrope plant will be an additional pleasure for those who live in places with hot, dry summers. They are drought and heat tolerant and deer hate them. Today, heliotrope flowers come in varieties of white and pale lavender, but the hardiest and most fragrant is still the traditional deep purple our grandmothers loved.

Small, shrub-like plants, heliotrope flowers grow from 1 to 4 feet high. Their leaves are long ovals of dark green. They are long bloomers that begin flowering in summer and offer up their fragrant bounty through the first frost. Heliotrope plants grow in one-sided clusters that follow the sun, hence the name from the Greek words Helios (sun) and Tropos (turn).

There is one warning that should accompany any discussion in the care of heliotrope plants. All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and animals if ingested. So keep them away from children and pets.

How to Grow Heliotrope Seeds and Cuttings

Seeds are the most popular method for how to grow heliotrope. Start your seeds indoors using regular potting soil 10 to twelve weeks before the last spring frost date for your area, allowing for the 28 to 42 days for germination. They’ll also need temperatures of 70-75 F. (21-24 C.) to germinate. Transplant your seedlings outdoors after the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 60 F. (16 C.).

Propagation by cuttings is the preferred method for how to grow heliotrope plants that are true to the parent plant’s color and scent. They also provide sturdier seedlings to set out in the spring. The best time to take cuttings is in late summer when the plants sometimes become leggy. Pinching them back acquires a two-fold purpose; a bushier plant and material for rooting.

Heliotrope Care: Tips for Growing a Heliotrope Plant

The directions for how to grow heliotrope are short, but they do have a few requirements for healthy growing. A heliotrope plant needs at least six hours of sun a day and prefers morning sun. The hotter the climate, the more afternoon shade they need. They appreciate rich, loamy soil and even moisture, particularly if planted in containers. They don’t do well in heavy clay.

Growing heliotrope plants in containers is a great way to enjoy their scent in places where it wouldn’t normally reach. They make wonderful additions to any container garden because they are not invasive or susceptible to insects or diseases, like powdery mildew, which can be a problem with closely packed plants.

Care of heliotrope plants in containers is about the same as other container plants. They are heavy feeders in the garden, but in containers, they become voracious. Feed them every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer meant for flowering plants. These fertilizers are easy to find in any garden department and are easily distinguished by the larger middle number (phosphorus).

Whether in the garden or containers, heliotrope care includes pinching plants back. You can start pinching back the tips all over the plant while it is still young to encourage bushiness. This will delay the initial bloom time, but later on you’ll be rewarded with a larger, more constant supply of blossoms.

Care of Heliotrope Plants in Winter

When summer is over and frost is on the way, try bringing one of your plants indoors. Cut the branches and stems back by one half to two-thirds and pot it up in rich, pre-fertilized houseplant soil.

Heliotrope winter care is the same as for most houseplants. Find a warm place in a sunny window and water sparingly. They make wonderful houseplants and you can enjoy the smell of cherry pie all year long.

Heliotrope

Heliotrope

An old-fashioned, hardy annual that has seen a resurgence in popularity, the heliotrope often is found by scent rather than by sight. Colorful clusters of small purple or blue blooms top off darker green foliage. Gardeners can’t seem to agree on its sweet scent; some think it smells like vanilla, others claim it smells like baby powder, grapes, or cherry pie.

genus name
  • Heliotropium
light
  • Sun
plant type
  • Annual
height
  • 1 to 3 feet
width
  • From 1 to 2 feet
flower color
  • Blue,
  • Purple,
  • White
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Fall Bloom,
  • Summer Bloom
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Fragrance,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 11
propagation
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Garden Plans For Heliotrope

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Heliotrope Color

The abundant flower clusters bring a splash of color in a container garden or a flower bed. The most common color seen is a deep, rich purple. But when you look closely at the blooms, it’s several shades of purple with tiny yellow centers. Many of the most common varieties claim to be blue flowers, however they are usually a fairly solid purple, and not quite a true blue. There are also some white variations of these blooms, as well as some pale lavenders to go along with the deeper purple shades.

Long, deeply veined leaves provide textural foliage that acts as a backdrop for the fragrant blooms. Overall, the plant is nice and shrubby. In a tropical setting, plants can reach up to three- to four-feet tall and wide. These shrubs can be almost completely covered in blooms during summer, and create quite a “scent-sation.”

See our top picks for fragrant annuals.

How to Grow Heliotrope Plants

A heliotrope is easy to grow. Plants are generally happy with full sun and moderate moisture but can tolerate a bit of shade. In a shadier spot, some of the blooming potential is diminished. One of the best ways to use heliotrope is in containers. This way, the plants can be moved around so their sweet fragrance can be enjoyed soften. A heliotrope is also great to plant in groups to maximize their fragrance as it can be fairly subtle at times.

Because the flowers bloom in large clusters, they may need some periodic removal or deadheading of old blossoms to extend their bloom. This is also a good time to prune back the plant to encourage bushy growth development.

As a whole, the heliotrope is fairly problem free, however in a very humid summer, if planted in some shade, it can be susceptible to powdery mildew. This appears on the foliage of the plants as a powdery white substance. This generally will not kill the plant, but it can slow the plant’s growth and is unsightly. To help prevent this, plant heliotrope in as much sun as possible, and make sure there is good airflow around the plants. Also, avoid getting the foliage wet when watering, especially in the evening.

More Varieties of Heliotrope

‘Fragrant Delight’ helitrope

Heliotropium ‘Fragrant Delight’ bears soft purple, highly fragrant flowers on 3-foot-tall plants.

Plant Heliotrope With:

Angelonia is also called summer snapdragon, and once you get a good look at it, you’ll know why. It has salvia-like flower spires that reach a foot or 2 high, but they’re studded with fascinating snapdragon-like flowers with beautiful colorations in purple, white, or pink. It’s the perfect plant for adding bright color to hot, sunny spaces. This tough plant blooms all summer long with spirelike spikes of blooms. While all varieties are beautiful, keep an eye out for the sweetly scented selections. While most gardeners treat angelonia as an annual, it is a tough perennial in Zones 9-10. Or, if you have a bright, sunny spot indoors, you can even keep it flowering all winter.

This unusual annual has beautiful blue-and-white flowers almost orchidlike in their beauty. A tropical shrub in the warmest parts of the country, Zones 8-11, duranta is grown in the rest of the country as an annual. It delights gardeners with its airy clusters of blue, violet, or white flowers followed by golden fruits. Plant it in a container and come fall, it will make a good indoor plant in a large, sunny, south-facing window.Watch for selections with variegated foliage; they add even more interest. As tropical shrubs, they can reach 15 feet or more, but when grown as annuals in cool regions, they seldom top 5 feet. Plant in spring in rich, well-drained soil after all danger of frost has passed. Fertilize moderately. Keep moist but do not overwater.

Elegant, silvery licorice plant is so useful to set off flowers in blue, white, purple, and other colors and to add contrast to plantings where you want more than just a mass of green. It’s especially good in containers, where you can admire it up close and show off its spreading habit to best effect.Technically a tropical shrub, licorice plant is usually grown as an annual in the United States. It does best in full sun and well-drained soil.

The Cherry Pie Plant

A member of the borage family, common heliotrope is one of about 250 Heliotropium species, but it is the only one widely grown in gardens. All are tropical or subtropical shrubs or subshrubs (a somewhat woody plant sometimes grown and used as a shrub or perennial).

Common heliotrope grows 2 to 3 feet high; some varieties are a compact 10 inches. Tiny, star-shaped flowers of deep blue, purple, lavender, or white come in tightly packed spikes that develop into rounded, 2- to 4-inch-diameter clusters. Hairy and veined 1- to 3-inch leaves have a purplish cast. All parts of the plant are toxic.

Favorite Varieties

Common heliotrope is often prized for its fragrance, but sometimes only for its color. My garden contains a white heliotrope variety (H. arborescens ‘Alba’) an old-fashioned variety graced with the enticing scent of vanilla. In my area of southern California (USDA Hardiness Zone 10), it flowers every month of the year. But the scent of the deep blue ‘Marine’, for example, is less heady than that of ‘Alba’.

Here are brief descriptions of some of the varieties currently available in the United States as seeds (S) or plants (P).

‘Alba’ (P): strong vanilla scent; white; 2 to 3 feet.

‘Fragrant Delight’ (S): vanilla scent; royal purple fading to lavender; 15 to 18 inches.

‘Iowa’ (P): sweet, slightly winelike fragrance; deep purple; dark green leaves with a purple cast; 2 to 3 feet.

‘Dwarf Marine’ (S,P): scant fragrance; intense blue; bushy, compact dwarf, 10 inches.

Don’t confuse common heliotrope (H. arborescens) with so-called garden heliotrope (Valeriana officinalis), a perennial herb with tiny fragrant flowers in clusters above low-growing leaves and bad-smelling roots. The latter can become invasive.

How to Grow Common Heliotrope

Start from plants or seeds. Both are more readily available by mail order than at retail nurseries. After frost danger has passed, set out seedlings or plants in well-drained soil in full sun. If you live in a region that experiences hot summers, grow heliotrope in a partially shaded site.

Growing from seed. Start seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the average last frost in your area. Use a planting mixture of 3 parts commercial potting mix to 1 part sand. Cover the seeds with 1/4 inch of soil, and keep the seedbed moist but not soggy. Seeds germinate in about two weeks at 70° to 80° F. As seedlings mature, thin them out, and pinch back the tips to keep the plants bushy. Feed after 6 weeks. You can also sow seeds directly in decorative containers or in flats or trays in preparation for landscape use.

Container culture. Two of the best ways to grow heliotrope are in a hanging basket (particularly ‘Marine’) and as a standard. Either method is ideal, because the flowers are easier to smell up close. Heliotrope is never invasive, so it can be grown in patio containers where vinca, dusty miller, or marigolds make attractive companions for its delicate flowers.

Caring for Cherry Pie Plant

Common heliotrope is a tender perennial. In a pot in a northern garden, the plant is only hardy to about 40° F. With its roots in open soil in a southern garden, temperatures at or below freezing will kill or damage leaves but not harm the roots. If you live where winter temperatures regularly fall (and hold) below 32° F, such as zone 9b and colder, treat heliotrope as you would an annual: Plant heliotrope outdoors after frost danger passes and let it die in the fall. Alternatively, bring the plant back inside to grow as a houseplant, or root a few cuttings to start new plants indoors over the winter.

In zones 10 and 11, treat it like any other perennial: Rejuvenate by cutting back old growth (but not as far as the woody stems) before growth begins in late winter or early spring.

An easy way to overwinter desirable varieties is to root cuttings in the fall. Use a soilless mix recommended for germinating seeds (see potting mix information in the section on growing heliotrope from seed above), and keep plants indoors in bright, indirect light; roots will develop within a month. Keep the plant going near a bright window or under fluorescent lights until spring. Set out when danger of frost has passed.

Overwinter container plants by bringing them indoors when frost is likely. Give them moist air, direct sun, and cool nights (50° to 55° F).

Feeding

Fertilize plants growing in containers every 2 weeks with a liquid fertilizer according to the label directions. Feed plants growing in the ground more sparingly. Use the same liquid fertilizer, but monthly, or mulch the plant with homemade or commercial compost once or twice a season. Excessively rich soil fosters leggy, less attractive growth and leaves plants more prone to pests.

Pests

Plants are rarely susceptible to insects or diseases, although spider mites may attack plants growing indoors. Control mites with sprays of water or insecticidal soap. Soggy soil, whether in the garden or indoors, will cause the leaves to brown and drop off. Still, the plant will recover quickly as soon as good drainage and aeration return.

heliotrope

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Any of several plants of the genus Heliotropium, especially H. arborescens, native to Peru and having small, highly fragrant purplish flowers.
  • noun The garden heliotrope.
  • noun Any of various plants that turn toward the sun.
  • noun A moderate, light, or brilliant violet to moderate or deep reddish purple.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun In astronomy, an instrument for showing when the sun arrives at the solstitial points.
  • noun A mirror arranged with a telescope and sights so as to flash a reflection of the sun to a great distance. The instrument is used in geodetic triangulation to mark a station. See heliograph, 1.
  • noun A plant of the genus Heliotropium, of the natural order Boraginaceæ.
  • noun The bluish-purple or pinkish-lilac color of some flowers of the heliotrope.
  • noun A mineral, a subspecies of quartz, of a deep-green color, peculiarly pleasant to the eye.
  • noun A direct coal-tar color of the disazo type, derived from dianisidine. It dyes unmordanted cotton reddish violet in an alkaline salt bath.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Anc. Astron.) An instrument or machine for showing when the sun arrived at the tropics and equinoctial line.
  • noun (Bot.) A plant of the genus Heliotropium; — called also turnsole and girasole. Heliotropium Peruvianum is the commonly cultivated species with fragrant flowers.
  • noun (Geodesy & Signal Service) An instrument for making signals to an observer at a distance, by means of the sun’s rays thrown from a mirror.
  • noun (Min.) See Bloodstone (a).
  • noun a grayish purple color.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun botany A plant that turns so that it faces the sun.
  • noun botany Particularly, a purple-flowered plant of the species Heliotropium arborescens.
  • noun A light purple or violet colour.
  • noun The fragrance of heliotrope flowers.
  • noun mineralogy A bloodstone (a variety of quartz).
  • noun surveying An instrument, employed in triangulation, that uses a mirror to reflect sunlight toward another, very distant, surveyor.
  • adjective Light purple or violet.
  • adjective Keeping one’s face turned toward the sun.

Pronounced /ˈhiːlɪəʊtrəʊp/

In early 1880, newspaper articles throughout much of the English-speaking world, usually headed “for the ladies”, reported that the Paris spring fashions featured a new colour:

LATEST PARISIAN FASHIONS
There is no doubt but that the “heliotrope colour” will take the lead in spring materials, such as silks, grenadines, and wollens ; the peculiar shade is that rosy purple conspicuous in the newly-blown flower, and which the dyers call a “false purple.”

Launceston Examiner (Tasmania), 24 Apr. 1880.

As the writer hinted, there was nothing new about the colour, nor indeed the word. The pretty flower called the heliotrope had long been a favourite in gardens, one that had been chosen as much for its scent as its rich purple colour.

On the face of it, it’s an odd name for the flower, as the helio- prefix refers to the sun and so might be better applied to a shade of yellow rather than purple. Heliotrope has been in the language for about a thousand years, originally in Old English as eliotropus, which had come via Latin from Greek heliotropion for a plant that turned its flowers to the sun. The second part is from Greek trepein, to turn, which appears in the English word tropism for the movement of parts of a plant in response to an external stimulus. One obvious tropism is gravity, which is why roots grow downwards and stems upwards and why plants don’t grow well on space stations. Many plants have the tropism of turning their flowers to the sun — marigolds and sunflowers, for example, as well as heliotropes — and all were at various times called heliotropes. Eventually, for reasons that aren’t clear, the word came to be reserved for the one plant.

The colour called purple in antiquity — often specifically Tyrian purple, because it was made and sold at the ancient Phoenician seaport of Tyre in the eastern Mediterranean — was obtained from a tiny gland in several closely related species of shellfish; about 10,000 were needed to make one gram of the dye. Consequently, it was rare and expensive, reserved for the high-born (hence phrases such as born to the purple). The colour varied between a rich crimson red and a dark purple usually said to be like that of dried blood. The secret of making it was lost in antiquity and the false purple of the newspaper article was one substitute, obtained either from other species of shellfish or by a chemical process involving logwood.

Artificial purple dyes began to appear in the 1830s with murexide, which was made by two German chemists from python excrement; as it’s hard to come by, French chemists later used South American guano instead, of which there was lots. (Incidentally, the German chemists took its name from Latin murex for the shellfish that provided Tyrian purple, though it had never been within miles of one.) Aniline dyes derived from coal tar came next, the first being discovered by accident in 1856 by the 18-year-old William Henry Perkin. He called it aniline purple but later mauveine and mauve (from the French word for the colour of the flowers of the mallow plant).

By 1880, purple fabrics at reasonable prices had been available for more than a decade. It was purely for marketing purposes that the Parisian arbiters of fashion decided to apply heliotrope to a particular shade of pinkish-purple. In doing so, they added a new sense to the dictionary definition of the word, in English as well as French.

Heliotrope was being used more widely at that time for another reason. A substance called piperonal or heliotropine, synthesised in 1869, started to be used a decade later in a perfume said to imitate the scent of heliotrope flowers. It has also been described as smelling like cherry pie, an unsurprising association, as heliotrope has long had the popular name of the cherry pie plant.

The popularity of the word heliotrope continued to grow throughout the last quarter of the century and into the first decade of the twentieth. The fashion for it declined rapidly after the end of the First World War and today it’s relatively uncommon as a word for a colour or scent, though gardeners, of course, still know it well.

Sondra Paulson

My heliotropes are doing well, but I am trying to determine if I should pinch them back or let them continue to grow tall.

Karen Chamberlain, Kelowna, BC

Dear Karen,
Heliotrope, sometimes called cherry pie (Heliotropium arborescens), is an attractive plant, with clusters of fragrant purple, white or violet flowers. It is used for summer bedding in most climates, but in frost-free zones it is perennial and can become large and shrubby. Historically in British gardens, heliotropes were trained into a standard form, with a woody stem and a ball of flowers and foliage at the top. These were brought into a greenhouse during the cold weather, started into growth the following spring and planted out again after the frost. During Victorian times, when formal bedding schemes were in vogue, standard heliotropes were used as “dot” or accent plants marching at intervals down the center of flowerbeds to provide height and interest. If you pinch the plants back, you will probably delay bloom time but will have the advantage of neater, more compact growth. Allowing the plants to grow tall will not affect their blooming, but they may need to be staked to stop them from breaking during windy weather. In either case, removing the dead flowers will encourage more bloom.

Heliotrope, or Cherry Pie Plant is a delightful old-fashioned addition to the home garden that everyone should seek out and try. The fragrance of this plant is an intoxicating vanilla-cinnamon-fruit scent that is most noticeable in the morning and early evening.

The word “Heliotrope” means to turn toward the sun, and predictably, the flower heads on these plants move with the sun as it crosses the sky, though in my opinion, this is really not very noticeable due to the large flower heads. Heliotrope can be found with flowers in blue, purple, and white, with purple being the most fragrant and most available. One thing that I have admired about this plant in my own garden (after the fragrance, of course), is the beautiful dark green, deep veined, almost velvety foliage. This plant sports some of the best-looking foliage on any ornamental I have come across lately.

Like most annuals, Heliotrope is actually a tender perennial, but it will only survive winters in the warmest climates. Good thing then, that it roots readily from stem cuttings, with the cutting producing flowers within six weeks or so. Therefore, just pot up a cutting or two a few inches long and take it indoors to a sunny window for the winter, transplant back to the garden after all danger of frost, and you will always have this lovely plant in your garden during the mild months.

Heliotrope appreciates moist, but not wet conditions and full or near full sun. If the soil dries out too much, the lower leaves will turn black and fall off, compromising the overall look of the plant. Therefore, in my experience, this plant does best in a bed covered with a few inches of good mulch to keep the roots cool and evenly moist. Because this is a known problem that is probably going to happen to you, I recommend that you also plant lower-growing ornamentals at the feet of the Heliotrope. Orange Marigolds look nice next to purple Heliotrope, or maybe pink Verbena, or pink or white begonia, to name a few. Fertilize every 6 weeks or so with a slow-release balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10. I simply scatter fertilizer granules periodically throughout the entire garden, with good results. Deadhead flowers so the plant will continue producing blooms. Leave blooms on the plant to dry for collecting seed, and when completely dry, shake into some sort of container such as a bowl, and then hand separate the seed from the chaff. Seed takes a long time to germinate (a month or more), so cuttings are the preferred propagation method for this plant.

Heliotrope grows to about 2 feet, occasionally a little more, and makes a wonderful addition to mixed plantings, fragrance gardens, or container gardens. Try it in a hanging basket at nose level to really appreciate the scent, or plant a big pot with several plants and place on a deck or patio to enjoy the fragrance in the evening after a long day. This plant is all about fragrance, fragrance, fragrance, and we could all use a little aromatherapy in our lives, so next spring when you go to the nursery, keep an eye out for this really nice plant!

Custom Search(Julie Bawden-Davis)

One of my favorite flowering shrubs is heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens). This fragrant shrub emits a lovely vanilla scent that perfumes the garden on a warm, sunny day. The plant tends to flower heaviest in spring and fall, although it can also provide blooms in the summer months.

Heliotrope comes in purple and white, with the white variety particularly fragrant. This shrub grows 4 to 6 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. The plant has pom-pom-like flower clusters and attractive dark green leathery leaves.

In addition to perfuming the garden, heliotrope attracts bees and butterflies. The plant makes an attractive addition to beds and borders, as well as a striking focal point in the garden.

To have luck growing heliotrope in your spring garden, keep the following cultivation tips in mind.

Grow in full sun to partial shade. In areas with hot summers, such as the west and southwest, grow heliotrope in an area of the garden that provides morning sun and afternoon shade, such as an eastern exposure. In areas with mild summer, the shrub can be grown in full sun.

Plant in rich soil that is on the acidic side. If you’re located in an area with alkaline soil, apply a fertilizer that contains soil sulfur, which will acidify the soil and lead to healthy growth. Also add compost to enrich the soil.

Promote drainage. Though heliotrope likes rich soil, it also requires good drainage. Without sufficient drainage, the shrub will succumb to root rot. Add a drainage agent to the soil, such as pumice, which won’t break down, but will stay in the soil and ensure that the soil drains well.

(Julie Bawden-Davis)

Keep well watered. Heliotrope doesn’t do well if allowed to dry out. Water container grown plants when the top inch of soil has dried out. Irrigate in-ground heliotrope when the top two inches of soil has dried out. Apply mulch to keep the soil surface moist and to cut down on the need for watering.

Pinch and prune regularly. To maintain a bushy heliotrope, pinch the growth tips back when the plant is young. As the plant becomes more mature, deadhead spent flowers, which will encourage more blooming. Cut the plant back by one-half in late winter or early spring. This will encourage full, healthy growth throughout the growing season.

Bring heliotrope indoors for winter. If you live in an area of the country that experiences freezing in winter and you wish to preserve your heliotrope, bring it indoors for the cold months of the year. Place the plant in an area of the home with bright light and water when the top 2 inches of soil has dried out. Take heliotrope outdoors in early spring when danger of frost has passed.

Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who since 1985 has written for publications such as Organic Gardening, The American Gardener, Wildflower, Better Homes and Gardens and The Los Angeles Times. She is the author of 10 books, including Reader’s Digest Flower Gardening, Fairy Gardening, The Strawberry Story Series, and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way, and is the founder of HealthyHouseplants.com.

Heliotrope is a perennial that blooms from spring until the end of summer and will adorn your flower beds, garden boxes and pot arrangements perfectly.

Essential Heliotrope facts

Name – Heliotropium
Family – Boraginaceae
Type – perennial
Height – 6 to 8 inches (40 to 120 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary, well drained

Flowering – May to September

Here is our advice on how to produce magnificent flowers for as long as possible…

Planting, sowing heliotrope

Heliotrope loves full sun and fears both cold weather and cool winds.

This plant will freeze and die whenever temperatures drop below 25°F (-4°C), so it should be grown in pots much as you would geraniums. This makes it easy to bring it indoors over winter.

  • It is recommended to plant heliotropes bought in nursery pots in spring, after any risk of freezing is over.
  • The soil must drain well and the stay quite cool all year round.
  • Have a preference for garden earth blended with special flower plant or perennial plant soil mix: this will make your soil richer.
  • Keep a distance of around 16 to 20 inches (30 to 40 cm) between plants.

Sowing heliotrope

Best sow under shelter in March-April.

Transplant once to nursery pots before putting them in place during the month of May.

  • Water regularly but not too much, until and after the seeds have sprouted.

Pruning and caring for heliotrope

Remove wilted flowers regularly when you see them die off to trigger production of new flowers.

As for watering, it is useful to avoid wetting the leafage and to water during prolonged dry spells.

For pots, shorter intervals between watering sessions are needed because pot soil tends to dry up much faster.

All there is to know about heliotrope

This perennial plant, usually grown as an annual, grows to form a bright green bush that bears large dark blue flowers.

It also goes by the name “Saint Fiacre’s herb”, after an Irish saint who was knowledgeable in herbs. It will grow just fine in flower beds, garden boxes and containers.

Place it next to a spot that is often used like a terrace to fully take advantage of its delicious vanilla-like fragrance.

Smart tip about heliotrope

The blooming is abundant and very fragrant, which means these flowers will make for marvelous additions to your cut flower bouquets.

Read also

  • Propagate your perennials through crown division

Growing Heliotropium (Heliotrope)

Latin Name Pronunciation: hee-lee-oh-tro’pee-um

Grow in full sun (afternoon shade is recommended in Zone 10 and the warmest parts of Zone 9 in the West) and evenly moist soil. Plants in dry soil are susceptible to powdery mildew, an aptly named fungal disease. Remove flower clusters as they turn brown to encourage the formation of new ones. Hardy to Zone 9 (20°F). In cold-winter climates, bring plants indoors before frost and place them in an east or west-facing window in a cool room. Water just enough to keep plants from drying out completely. Set back outdoors after the danger of frost has passed in spring.

Growing Standards:

A standard is a woody plant trained to a long, single stem. The stem is crowned with a round head of foliage and flowers. This arrangement is beautiful but also unnatural, requiring a bit of effort on the part of the gardener to prevent gravity and the unrepressed inclinations of the plant from undoing the horticulturist’s handiwork.

Staking a Standard: To keep your standard standing, put it out of reach of strong winds and support it with a stake that has a diameter at least as large as the stem’s and long enough that when plunged into the pot or the ground it just reaches inside the head. Fasten the standard to the stake at several points with garden twine or green plastic tie tape looped in a figure-eight around stem and stake. Check the ties periodically during the growing season and loosen them if they constrict the outward growth of the stem.

Pruning, fertilizing, and repotting: Maintain the shape of the head with selective pinching of the new shoots (overzealous pinching will prevent the formation of flower buds). Pinch each shoot between thumb and forefinger or cut with pruning shears. Do not shear the plant as though it were a hedge. Fertilize standards grown in pots as you would other pot-grown plants. If you find that a standard in a container dries out quickly after watering, the plant probably needs a larger pot. Lift it from its current pot, make four deep vertical cuts in the root ball, and place it in a new pot that is 2in wider and taller than the old one, filling in around the root ball with fresh potting mix. Water thoroughly after repotting.

Overwintering a standard: Most standards require special care to overwinter. In cold winter climates, bring standards of Abutilon, Anisodontea, Fuchsia, Heliotrope, Lantana, and Rosemary indoors before frost and place them in an east- or west-facing window in a cool room. Water just enough to keep plants from drying out completely, and do not fertilize while plants are in this not-quite-dormant period. Set back outdoors in spring when nighttime temperatures remain consistently above 55°F.

Rosemaries will survive the winter in the ground in Zones 7 and warmer. In colder zones, bring your potted Rosemary indoors in the fall. Cut your Rosemary back by about one-third before bringing it indoors to overwinter. Do not repot it often as this causes shock. Place the plant in a spot that receives a lot of sun but that stays under 60°F. A cool, sunny enclosed porch is ideal. Keep the plant away from heat sources and on the dry side. Do not fertilize.

For information on planting and care of annuals, click here.

Heliotrope, Cherry Pie

Heliotrope, or cherry pie, is an annual flower with an alluring fragrance. Flowers bloom in splendid clusters of deep blue, violet, lavender, or white florets during the summer.

Annuals Image Gallery

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Description: Heliotrope has long, gray-green leaves with deep veins; reaching a height of one foot with an equal spread is reasonable. Many tiny flowers are clustered in the large heads carried well above the foliage.

How to grow: Any good garden soil with medium fertility in full sun will grow good heliotropes. Normally, plants are started early indoors (from seeds or cuttings) and transplanted outdoors when danger of frost has passed and the ground is warm. Depending on the size of transplants, space from 8 to 15 inches apart.

Propagation: Sow seeds 10 to 12 weeks before planting out. Seeds germinate in 7 to 21 days at 70 degrees to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Root cuttings in four-inch pots in February to have husky plants for May planting.

Uses: Tuck heliotropes into rock gardens, or grow them in the front of borders or in mixed containers.

Scientific name: Heliotropium arborescens

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