A native of Peru, heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) grows 4 feet tall in its native environment. It's grown as an annual in most of the United States, usually reaching just 12 to 18 inches tall.
Heliotrope's clusters of flower heads have a fruity fragrance and bloom throughout the summer. In Europe, flowers are used for making perfume. The dark green foliage is rough, wrinkled, and sometimes slightly tinted with purple. Plant heliotrope in containers, annual flower beds, hanging baskets, and window boxes where you can watch the butterflies it attracts.
Common name: Heliotrope, cherry pie
Botanical name: Heliotropium arborescens
Plant type: Short-lived shrub usually grown as an annual
Height: 12 to 48 inches
Zones: 10 to 11
Family: Boraginaceae (Borage)
- Sun: Full sun
- Soil: Moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter
- Moisture: Water regularly to establish roots on new plants. Once established, water moderately.
- Mulch: Apply an organic mulch to deter weeds and retain soil moisture.
- Fertilizer: Use a balanced fertilizer monthly.
- Pruning: Pinch shoots to encourage a bushy habit. Remove spent flowers to encourage more flowering.
- ‘Atlantis' (pictured) has dark purple flowers with a sweet fragrance.
- ‘Alba' has fragrant white flowers.
- ‘Marine' has violet-blue flowers 6 inches across.
- ‘Mini-Marine' is a dwarf variety with violet-blue flowers.
- Where not hardy, set out seedlings after last frost in spring.
- In warmer climates, plants like some afternoon shade.
- Shorter cultivars like ‘Atlantis' are good for containers. They can be overwintered in a bright spot with temperatures from 50ºF to 60ºF.
- Heliotrope does well as a houseplant if it has enough bright light.
- Contact with foliage might irritate skin and eyes. Some sources list foliage as poisonous when ingested.
Pests and diseases
- Watch for white flies, mealy bugs, aphids, and spider mites.
- Rust and leaf spot occasionally occur.
- Sow seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before last average frost date.
- Take cuttings of cultivars in summer.
All in the family
- Some better-known perennials in the Boraginaceae family include Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), woodland forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica), and lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.).
Text by Mary Pestel, photo courtesy of Monrovia Growers.