Heliotropium arborescens, also known as Cherry Pie, Mary Fox, White Queen, and, of course, heliotrope, is a charming family of plants that produces delicate rows of deep purple flowers. Heliotropium arborescens belongs to the Heliotropiaceae family, which counts 325 members that perform well in diverse geographical regions.
Suitable for cultivation in most flower gardens, beautiful, colorful and fragrant heliotropes are one of the most popular plants grown outdoors in tropical and temperate zones all over the world. With the proper love and care, heliotropes can also, however, perform well when they are grown as houseplants.
The name “heliotrope” symbolizes the flower’s habit of following the sun on its journey across the day sky and comes from the Greek words helios (meaning sun) and tropos (meaning “to turn”). Originating in Peru, this aromatic flower family counts rather a few species which are considered weeds among its members. Over time, some of these “weeds” have risen to popularity as ornamental garden plants, however.
Heliotrope arborescens is by far the most well-known species within the heliotrope family. This dainty shrubby perennial can grow up to two meters in height. Similar to forget-me-nots, Heliotrope arborescens has fragrant, flat-clustered, five-lobed flowers that may be violet, lavender, or white in color.
- Heliotropes are a genus of flowering and herbaceous perennial plants that belong to the Boraginaceae family.
- Heliotropes are considered to be “cosmopolitan”, signifying that these flowering plants can be found all around the world — from East Asia to Europe and Britain, in North and South America, and in Africa. The common ornamental Heliotropium arborescens is native to the subtropical regions of Peru.
- Heliotropes are known to be easy to grow, and they won’t give you any trouble as long as you stick to a few basic care rules. This makes growing and caring for heliotropes suitable for novice gardeners.
- Members of the heliotrope family are not just popular among gardeners because their flowers are so pretty. In fact, you are quite likely to notice their uniquely beautiful scent before you ever lay eyes on the plant. The fragrance of these plants has been described in many different ways — from vanilla to cherry pie, and even perfumed baby powder.
- Heliotrope flowers gained popularity as a cottage garden flower in Britain during the Victorian era, when these flowers were said to symbolize eternal love and devotion. They certainly look romantic!
- Heliotropes do not just have a Greek name; these flowering plants also make an appearance in Greek mythology. In the myth retold in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the nymph Clytie died of a broken heart after being scorned by the sun god Helios. She then transformed into a heliotrope — still following her lover’s every move.
- Heliotropes make for a wonderful addition to any pollinator garden, as bees, butterflies, and other insects are attracted by the pleasant fragrance. Heliotropes even attract hummingbirds if you live in the right climate!
- Did you know that heliotropes work best as part of a cluster of plants, which will also help you design a beautiful garden? Some of the companion plants most commonly grown in the vicinity of Heliotrope arborescens and other members of the heliotrope family include angelonia and duranta, which bloom in complementary colors.
- Whether you are hoping to grow heliotropes in your garden or would like to keep a heliotrope as a houseplant, do keep in mind that every part of the heliotrope plant can be toxic to humans in large quantities. Heliotropes are also toxic to cats, dogs, and other pets, and may therefore not be suitable for animal lovers unless they are able to keep their pets away from heliotropes.
- Heliotropes also hold some medicinal value. While essential heliotrope oils may be used in massage oils, heliotrope tinctures are sometimes used topically to treat skin ailments.
- The so-called garden heliotrope, popularly grown in Southern Europe as an essential perfume ingredient, is not, in fact, a member of the same family — with the scientific name Valeriana officinalis, it belongs to the same family as Valerian.
- People who would like to grow a container garden may like to include heliotropes as well, as these flowers will thrive there.
Heliotrope Features: An Overview
- Heliotropium plants are popular flowering perennials that perform well in many parts of the world. They are most often grown as annuals in gardens.
- These flowering plants usually grow to be one to four feet tall when they reach maturity, and have a similarly impressive spread.
- Heliotrope leaves may have a rich green, silver-green, or blue shade, depending on the precise species. The leaves are arrange in an alternating pattern and have wispy hairs.
- Heliotropes most often bloom in shades of purple (like violet and lavender), but following the renewed popularity of these pretty garden flowers, varieties that produce also blue, white, and even pink are also being cultivated.
- Heliotrope flowers are trumpet-shaped and have four to five petals.
- Heliotropes flower in fall, spring, and
- Heliotropes prefer warm and dry conditions, which makes them perfect houseplants.
All heliotrope species need around six hours of full sun a day to thrive — so if you are intending to grow heliotropes in your garden, steer clear of shady areas and choose a bright and sunny spot for these flowers. Where possible, some afternoon shade can do these plants some good.
The fact that heliotropes don’t tolerate cold temperatures, and especially frost, means that most people grow heliotropes as annual plants outside of their native subtropical regions. Dry, low-humidity, climates that enjoy warm summer days but much cooler nights are best for heliotropes.
These plants prefer fertile, well-drained soil that has the ability to hold moisture well. Although they are able to thrive in a variety of conditions, plants from the heliotrope family, such as Heliotrope arborescens, do best when the soil they are in has a pH value between 6.6 and 7.3
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Fertilizing heliotropes is an absolute must throughout their long growing season. Prior to planting heliotropes, make sure you nourish the soil with a well-balanced organic fertilizer regimen. Heliotropes that grow in gardens, outdoors, will need to be fertilized at least once a month. Those grown as houseplants or in container gardens are even more demanding, and require fertilizer every two weeks. Many people like to use fertilizer in the fall, to encourage a more beautiful bloom but remember not to fertilize heliotropes during their flowering period.
Because heliotropes bloom in large, single-rowed, clusters, some flowers will wilt just as others are coming to bloom. To keep your heliotropes looking attractive, snipping off wilted flowers is warmly recommended. Regular pruning ensures your heliotropes look their best, and in the springtime, pinching the emerging flowers and stems can help your heliotropes achieve a wider spread.
These non-invasive plants are not very prone to pests and diseases, and are extremely easy to take care of. Heliotropes do not, on the other hand, tolerate high humidity levels very well. When they are exposed to high humidity, heliotropes can develop mildew. Though not fatal, this is something you should try to avoid if you can. People who live in extremely humid climates may prefer to grow heliotropes indoors, where demumidifiers can protect them.
Heliotropes — including Heliotrope arborescens — are extremely thirsty plants. Make sure that the soil your heliotropes call home remains moist constantly, without waterlogging it. Check in on your heliotropes often, and water them whenever the soil is dry.
The fact that heliotropes need lots of water doesn’t mean that you should drown them, though! As you water any heliotrope flowers in your garden, container garden, or in a pot in your home, try to make sure that you do not moisten the foliage.
If you have previous experience with caring for heliotropes in a garden, and are now hoping to grow these flowering plants in a container garden or as a houseplant, keep in mind that potted heliotropes are able to absorb water more efficiently, and therefore need even more water than their counterparts growing in the “wild”!
Root cuttings or stem cuttings are the most successful ways to propagate heliotropes.
To grow heliotropes from stem cuttings, which you can easily do any time during these plants’ active growing season, simply follow these steps:
- Choose the fresh, green, stem of a mature heliotrope, and select a four or five inch length that you can cut just underneath a leaf.
- Gently detach the leaves at the bottom of your heliotrope cutting.
- Next, dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone, carefully tapping it to shake off any excess.
- Plant the cutting in a rich soil mixture that was well-watered, but also has proper drainage.
- Unlike mature heliotropes, cuttings should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Keep them in a bright spot that receives indirect sunlight.
- Pinch the cuttings gently as soon as they start thriving, to encourage lateral growth and a bushier appearance in the mature plant. This practice likewise encourages more abundant flowers.
Once your heliotrope cutting begins to thrive, it will be pretty straightforward to care for.
Make sure to keep the soil around the plant weed-free, as fast-growing weeds will steal the young plant’s moisture and precious nutrients, impeding the growth of a beautiful plant. Keep the soil evenly moist, and offer your young heliotrope water whenever the soil around it is becoming dry, avoiding the stem.
Heliotropes are best propagated with cuttings taken the late summer (when the plants sometimes become leggy). This timing ensures that the new plants will have the parent plant’s color and scent, and leads to hardier plants than if cuttings are taken in spring. Heliotropes grown as container plants, which have spent the winter indoors, can also be used as stock plants, from which you can take cuttings during the spring.
It is also possible to start heliotropes from seed — and propagating heliotropes in this way is most popular among people who do not already have established plants. In this case, follow these steps:
- Start your seeds indoors during the late winter, 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost of the season is expected to hit your area.
- Heliotrope seeds should be kept at temperatures between 70 and 75 °F (21 to 24 °C). They will germinate after 28 to 42 days.
- Heliotrope seeds can be placed in regular potting soil, the same kind you would use for any houseplant, along with a warm seedling mix. The pot you use should have drainage holes. Your heliotrope seeds will germinate as long as the right temperature conditions are met and you keep the soil consistently moist — whenever the soil is nearly dry, offer the seedlings some more water.
- Once your heliotrope seedlings have germinated, are performing well, and you are certain that your area won’t experience any further frost this season, your heliotrope seedlings are ready to be transplanted to the garden or container garden.
- The should be spaced 20 centimeters (eight inches) apart on all sides to thrive, as your seedlings will continue to grow taller and wider.
Remember to continue to care for your young heliotropes by watering them regularly, whenever the soil is nearly dry. If they are in your garden, heliotropes should be fed with fertilizer once a month. If they grow in a container, every two weeks is better. Likewise, as your heliotropes grow, don’t be afraid to prune them.
Heliotropes are beautiful, fragrant, plants that produce lovely fragrant flowers. Due to their incredible versatility, heliotropes can be grown almost anywhere in the world, and can thrive as houseplants as well as in gardens and container gardens. Because they are so easy to care for, members of the heliotrope family, including the popular Heliotropium arborescens, are a new gardener’s dream.
These charming flowering plants can quickly make any home or garden feel more like home. Their scent creates maintain a romantic atmosphere you’ll enjoy alongside the many bees and butterflies that will visit your garden. All heliotropes wants in return is a little care and love — and plenty of water.