Heliotropium

Heliotropium flowers

A tender evergreen shrub that is usually grown as an annual in the UK. The plants are compact and bushy, with attractive foliage and richly coloured flowers. Once very popular in Victorian bedding schemes.

Family: Boraginaceae
Botanical Name: Heliotropium
Common Names: Heliotrope, Cherry pie

Foliage: Evergreen, dark green, finely wrinkled leaves.

Flowers: Large spreading clusters of small, scented flowers. Ranging in colour from dark purple through lilac to white. The flowers smell of cherry-pie filling, hence its common name.

Flowering Period: Late spring to mid autumn.

Soil: Moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil (sand or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.

Conditions: Sun or partial shade. Best grow in an east, west or south facing aspect, in a sheltered location.

Habit: Bushy.

Type: Grown as half-hardy annual in the UK.

Origin: South America

Toxicity: All parts of are toxic if eaten. Wear gloves when handling.

Hardiness: Half-hardy in the UK. Protect from frost.

Planting and Growing Heliotropium

Grow in a fertile well-drained loam, in a sunny possition. Shelter from wind. Dislikes cold exposed sites.

The cherry scented flowers are particularly attractive to butterflies and other pollinating insects. Popular as dot plants in formal bedding schemes. Dwarf types are ideal for pots and containers. Tall varieties can be trained as a standard.

They can be grown from seed but the easiest way is to purchase spring bedding plants from garden centers and nurseries. They may also be sold as standards or large specimen plants. Do not plant outside until late spring, once all danger of frost has passed in your area.

Taking Care of Heliotropium

Water freely until established.

Support tall varieties with twiggy sticks or canes and string.

To improve flowering, apply an all-purpose flowering plant food every few weeks, or use a slow release form.

Standards and specimen plants require special care to overwinter. In cold regions, bring the plants indoors before the first frost and place them in a cool frost free greenhouse or an east or west-facing window in a cool room.

Pruning

Deadhead regularly to extend the flowering period.

Pests and Diseases

Generally pest and disease free.

Propagating Heliotropium

Sow seeds in late winter in trays of seed compost. Germinate at a temperature of 16-18°C (61-64°F). Prick out and pot on once the seedlings are large enough to handle. Once about 3in (7.5cm) high, pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushy growth. Harden off before planting out in late spring, once all danger of frost is past.

Cuttings can also be taken in spring from over-wintered plants.

Popular Varieties of Heliotropium

Heliotropium arborescens (syn. H. peruvianum) produces heads of small scented flowers that range in colour from dark purple to lilac and white. Height and spread from 1-3ft (30-90cm) or more. Popular cultivars include:

  • 'Marine' a compact form with scented, deep violet-blue flowers and dark foliage. Height to 18in (45cm).
  • 'Mini Marine' a dwarf bushy variety with large violet-purple flower clusters and dark green, near bronze foliage. Height to 16in (40cm).
  • 'Lady White' a traditional variety with white flowers. Height to 12in (30cm).
  • 'Lord Roberts' a traditional variety with violet flowers. Height to 12in (30cm).
  • 'Princess Marina' produces clusters of sweetly-scented violet-blue flowers. Height to 12in (30cm). For sale at Crocus.
  • 'Nautilus Blue' newly bred with double the flowers of traditional heliotrope varieties. Neat compact plants that product large flowers from May to October. Height to 18in (45cm). For sale at Van Meuwen.
  • 'Nautilus White' another recent introduction, bred for its abundance of flowers and a neat, bushy habit. Height to 18in (45cm). For sale at Thompson & Morgan.