Introducing Heliotropes: quite possibly your new favorite flowering plant.

Plants of the genus Heliotropium are commonly known as heliotropes. This genus includes roughly 250-300 species of flowering plants, all of which belong to the plant family, Boraginaceae.

In Greek, the name heliotrope means “sun” (helios) and “to turn” (tropein). This is because this specific type of plant tends to turn its leaves toward the sun all day long.

At night, the plant will actually readjust its leaves and flowers to point eastward, readying itself for the sunrise. This is another unique characteristic of this type of plant, which is also why people call it, ‘turnsole’ as well.

The plants of this genus are able to reach height of 12-36 inches. Their leaves tend to be quite broad, dark green, and crinkled. The flowers blossom in clusters - forming a single flower head on top of each stem.

They can develop hues of white, purple or blue, however purple heliotropes are more common than most and are also the most fragrant out of the choices.

Heliotrope flowers and plants are known for their strong and alluring fragrance. Some say that their scent is similar to a home-baked cherry pie, giving this plant another nickname - the “cherry pie plant”.

These cherry pie fragranced plants blossom during midsummer, giving your garden and home a delicious smell, as well as a gorgeous splash of color.

All About The Heliotrope Plant

heliotrope flowers

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​Heliotropes are related to comfrey, forget-me-nots, and amsinckia - which all belong to the Boraginaceae family.

Usually the heliotrope is a hairy annual herb that can grow up to 50 cm tall, however as mentioned earlier, it tends to stay in the 12-36 inch region.

The heliotrope has a distinctively well-built taproot system with a labyrinth of branching systems. The leaves on this plant are oval or egg shapes and are distinctively grey-green to dark-green on the leaf surface, while maintaining a pale-green color underneath the lead.

Flowers on the heliotrope can be white, purple, or blue and can begin 3-4 weeks from sprouting while in healthy conditions. If you’re looking to keep this flower for the long-haul, make sure you put it under favorable conditions to allow it to blossom through the summer.

This plant can also bear fruit, which are brown nutlets, containing a brownish-black seed inside each one.

In this article, we’ll outline everything you need to know about heliotropes, including 5 popular types of heliotropes that you may want to consider planting in your yard this gardening season.

Facts About Heliotrope: Ecology And Human Use

​Many types of heliotropes are very popular garden plants, specifically the garden heliotrope.

Some species of heliotropes are considered weeds and many are deemed to be toxic if consumed in large amounts. This is due to the large amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids they contain.

In fact, there have been reports of dog deaths from the overconsumption of this plant.

Some types of butterflies such as the male queen danainae butterflies will visit these plants as they’re actually attracted to these Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). However, not all animals will be lured in by this plant’s scent. Most animals will ignore it completely.

That being said, there have been cases of pigs, cattle, and horses being poisoned by this plant due to hay contamination, so make sure you’re not cross-contaminating your hay if you own a farm and livestock.

If you’re planning on growing some heliotrope plants in your garden, a creature you’ll need to watch out for is the caterpillar - as they tend to feed on heliotropes.

In terms of our history with this plant, heliotrope flower sap, specifically sap from the European heliotrope was used as food coloring in Early Modern French cuisine and the Middle Ages.

It was also grown in Southern Europe to be used as a perfume ingredient.

How To Properly Care For Your Heliotrope Plants

heliotrope plant in person hand

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​One of the most important factors to remember in the care and growth of these flowering plants is the amount of sunlight and water you give them.

These plants mostly prefer bright sunlight, however they also seem to appreciate shelter during the late afternoon since too much intense sunlight can harm their leaves.

While water and sunlight are extremely important to the overall growth and vitality of these plants, heliotropes also require moist and rich soil to perform their best.

Although they enjoy moist soil, it’s important not to make the soil too wet, so make sure to water your heliotrope plants enough to maintain a moist environment, without over-watering.

While over-watering is important to avoid, you shouldn’t let the soil completely dry out, either. Basically, these plants need to be grown in well-drained soil. You can accomplish this by including a layer of your choice of mulch around the base of the plants to keep the soil at a perfect level of moisture.

When this is set up, watering your plants once a week is enough to ensure proper growth. However, keep in mind that during dry season, you’ll need to check on soil quality more frequently, and you may need to increase your watering schedule to twice a week.

To promote better growth, you can also include a high-quality fertilizer to your heliotrope plants three times a year. The perfect time for fertilization is during mid-summer, early fall and late spring. It’s suggested to use a water-soluble, slow-release fertilizer for heliotropes.

Besides fertilization, pinching is also an important growth-stimulating habit to get into. Make sure to pinch the tips of the plant to maintain a bushy aesthetic all-summer long.

5 Types Of Wonderful Heliotropes

​Now that we’ve outlined the basic facts and care tips of heliotrope plants, it’s time to get into the specific types of heliotropes that are available.

As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of different types of heliotropes to choose from, some of which are considered to be weeds.

However, by sticking to the most popular or at least the most common types of garden
heliotrope, you’ll be able to narrow down which type of plant is best for you and your personalized garden.

Happy planting!

1. Heliotropium Arborescens

Heliotropium Arborescens

Image Source: Pixabay

​This type of heliotrope is a very fragrant perennial plant, originating from Peru. It’s especially notable for its vanilla fragrance, which most homeowners absolutely love.

It’s also referred to as a “common heliotrope”.

This plant gained a lot of recognition throughout the Victorian era in England, appearing in many park borders and home gardens.

Throughout the years, its popularity has lessened, however other more colorful varieties such as “Princess Marina” make it known that this plant still appears in modern garden centers.

2. Indian Heliotrope

Indian Heliotrope

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​This type of heliotrope is a multi-branches and erect perennial plant that grows up to 1.5 meters in length.

This plant displays woody stems at the base and is harvested from the wild to be used for a number of medicinal practices.

The juice extracted from the leaves of the plant is commonly used on skin ulcers, wounds, and furuncles and can also be used as an eye drop for conjunctivitis. The pounded Indian heliotrope leaves can also be used as poultice for wounds.

3. Heliotropium Europaeum

Heliotropium Europaeum

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​This type of heliotrope is commonly known as a “European Heliotrope” as well as the “European Turn-Sole.”

Native to Asia, Europe and North Africa, this plant has also been naturalized in North America and Australia.

The flower pedals on this heliotrope are white and the plant has been used in European medicinal herb practices for the treatment of urinary inflammation.

4. Salt Heliotrope

Salt Heliotrope

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​This type of heliotrope, the curassavicum, is commonly known as a “Salt Heliotrope”, and it is native to the Americas, from Canada to Argentina.

It thrives in salty soils and marshes and can be found on coastlines, producing small and delicate white flowers.

​5. Heliotropium Foertherianum

Velvetleaf Soldierbush

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​This type of heliotrope is native to tropical areas in Asia, such as southern China, northern Australia, and Madagascar.

As a small shrub, this plant is also known as a “Velvetleaf Soldierbush” or an “octopus Bush.” It reaches heights of 3.6 m and provides a 5 m spread.

Heliotropes: Are They The Plant For You?

​If you like home-baked cherry pies, the scent of vanilla, and the constant excitement of having a toxic plant growing in your garden, a type of heliotrope may be a great choice for you.

These plants are relatively easy to grow and can brighten up a garden or home with their incredible fragrance, precious petals, and soothing colors.

Also, you’re spoilt for choice. With hundreds of different types of heliotropes, you’ll be able to find the perfect plant to suit your personalized and beloved garden.

Just make sure your dogs (and any other pets or farm animals) don’t get into them.

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