Heliotrope (Cherry Pie, heliotropium, Mary fox, turnsole, and white queen) is a sweetly-scented shrubby perennial, well-known for its little white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. The name of this beautiful plant has its roots in the Greek word ‘helios’ meaning ‘sun’ because of its habit to turn to the sun during the day.
Depending on your preferences and the size of your garden, you can choose to grow dwarf varieties of this plant or big ones, which can reach over 4 feet (1.2 m) in height. Be careful, and keep children and pets away from Heliotrope since all its parts are toxic. However, cases of poisoning are rare since only ingestion of large quantities can cause severe problems.
Facts about Heliotrope
The Ancient Greeks believed that this plant was a ‘bloom of the Sun.’ The reason is that Heliotrope flowers open every morning and their little heads follow the sun from east to the west.
When the night comes, flowers return to the starting position, to the east. And so day by day, these flowers repeat their precise path until the last bloom remains on the stem. That ritual ends in winter after flowers definitely wither.
After many centuries, Heliotrope came to Victorian England in the 1700s and became generally accepted as ‘the flower of love’ very quickly.
In that time, the sweet scent of this beautiful plant was an indispensable part of almost all spacious estate gardens, including formal ones and open parklands of that time. People loved its fragrant blooms and deep green leaves.
In many cultures, Heliotrope is considered a medicinal herb used for curing numerous infections and healing wounds. In particular parts of the world, people use this plant instead of quinine for treating malaria.
Apart from being used as an effective remedy against warts and callouses, this herb can be taken for solving much more other issues. For example, Heliotrope tinctures may soothe a sore throat and ease nausea.
Actually, it is not too hard making the tincture of this herb. You can use all parts of the plant depending on the medical issue that needs to be solved.
I tried an ancient method for making the tincture of flowers. Fill the airtight jar with cut flowers and pour them with 70% alcohol. After closing it up, store the mix in a dark place for several months. When it becomes well-prepared, strain the mixture through a sieve and use tincture as skin lining.
The other way to use Heliotrope flowers is making essential oil. Cut an adequate amount of blooms and leaves. After crushing them in a mortar, you should put the resulting mixture into an airtight jar.
Add natural oil over it, and store the mix to infuse for a few months in an appropriate place. This oil is highly beneficial and relaxing when used for massage.
Toxicity of Heliotrope
As I have already mentioned, Heliotrope is a toxic plant when ingested in larger quantities for a long time. The victims are often Herbivores grazed on pastures.
Consuming large amounts of this plant won’t kill an animal during the current season. However, it will affect the quality of milk and cause severe poisoning of cattle during the following season.
The problem causes two types of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (lycopsamine and indicine) and their N-oxides, which are toxic. Since N-oxides are soluble in water, human and animal bodies absorb them quickly, which leads to poisoning.
On the other hand, the results of many studies show that indicine N-oxide is an efficient antitumor agent. It might be used for the treatment of leukemia in infants and brain tumors in adults. Unfortunately, for now, there is still no solution for liver damage that occurs as a side effect of consuming this plant.
How to Plant Heliotrope in Your Garden
Purchase certificated seeds from the local store and sow it indoors about three months before the last frost. In most cases, you will need to provide bottom heating to encourage germinating. The ideal temperatures of the medium should be from 70 to 75 F (21 – 24 C).
Since seeds of some varieties need up to a month to germinate, you should consider a possibility to buy seedlings from the nursery.
Regardless of whether you have got your Heliotrope seedlings from seeds or you decide to buy them, you should plant those young plants in your garden in spring. Take care that the temperatures of the soil are not below 60 F (15.5 C).
The right, sunny place with the fertile and well-drained soil is crucial for the vigorous and healthy growth of your plant. Also, keep it watered throughout the whole growing season.
You can also propagate your Heliotrope with cuttings. Take them in late summer from a mother plant growing in the garden. If you want to take cuttings from a plant spending winter indoors, you should do it in spring.
Your shrub will grow moderately and won’t require too much maintenance. However, if you grow this plant in a container, you should repot it once or two times a year depending on the pot size. The best moment for repotting is early spring before your Heliotrope begins the growth in the new season.
Popular Heliotrope varieties
|Princess Marina||18 inches (46 cm)||Deep blue or violet||
Deep green, wrinkled
|18 inches (46 cm)||Light purple||Deep green, veined|
|Chatsworth||60 inches (1.5 m)||Purple||
Dark green, wrinkled
|16 inches (40.5 cm)||Lilac-mauve||Golden orange|
|White Queen||60 to 80 inches (1.5 to 2 m)||Pure white||
|15 – 20 inches (40 – 50 cm)||Deep purple||
Dark green, tinged with purple
How to Care Heliotrope in Your Garden
The best option is providing a distance between plants of at least 16 to 20 inches (30 to 40 cm). Also, plant them in rows 11 inches (30cm) apart.
You should add mature compost before planting Heliotrope when the ground in your garden is not adequately rich in nutrients. Since this plant prefers moist but well-drained soil, adding some perlite will help in preventing root rot.
Anyway, the fertile, adequately supplemented, and slightly acidic ground will help your plant become vigorous and grow healthy.
Since your Heliotrope will love the sunshine, you should plant it in the site with plenty of light. To get a lush blooming, try to provide full sun for your plant. When located in the partial shade, the herb will produce fewer flowers and won’t develop its lovely shrubby growth.
The only exceptions are regions with extremely hot summers. If you live in one of them, it would be nice to provide partial shade in afternoons for your plant.
Heliotropes thrive in full sun, and they prefer warmer temperatures. To get excellent growth and lush blooming, you should protect your plant from cold weather, especially strong and cold wind in winter.
If you leave these flowers outside when the temperatures drop below 25 F (-3.9 C), they will freeze and die out eventually. Therefore, an ideal solution is growing Heliotrope in a pot and removing it inside before the first frost in fall.
Heliotropes can’t stand dry soil, and they require consistent watering. Never allow your plant dry out during the season of full growth. As the best solution for preserving moisture, you can place a thick layer of mulch around the base of the shrub.
After removing your plants indoors in fall, you should provide as much humidity as possible for them. They will need the average level of moisture higher than 30% in winter.
If you grow Heliotrope in a container, you should provide regular and thorough watering during the whole growing season. As soon as you notice that the surface of the ground begins to dry, you should add some water.
Before start planting your Heliotrope, mix the soil with a well-balanced organic fertilizer or well-decayed compost. Feed your flowers with some weaker liquid fertilizer every six weeks during the active growth in summer.
That way, you will stimulate new growth. Once the plant goes dormant and its flowers become fading, you should stop fertilizing.
Mulching around the base of each plant will retain moisture of the ground and prevent fast drying even during hot summer days.
After adding 2 inches (5 cm) of organic mulch, you should well-water your plants and keep providing 1 to 2 inches (2.5 – 5 cm) of water weekly.
The best time for pinching your Heliotrope is late winter, but you can do the job early in spring as well. If your shrub is well-established, avoid cutting off more than the half-plant height to get lovely shaped bush.
As soon as the new seedlings start growing well, start with regular pinching the tips to help your plant become stronger and bushier.
Cut stems a few inches above the surface of the ground with clean pruning shears. That won’t be necessary if you grow this plant as an annual.
Pruning is an efficient procedure just if you want to keep your Heliotrope in the garden for years. In that case, cutting will encourage proper and lush branching.
If you live in warmer regions, don’t forget to cut off old and leggy plants in spring.
To promote better blooming, remove all deadheads as soon as flowers start withering.
There is also an opportunity to dry removed flower heads in the warm and well-aerated place. That way, you can collect the seeds you can sow the following season.
Heliotrope Pests and Diseases
If you provide all its growing requirements, Heliotrope is quite resistant to diseases and pests.
They cover flower buds and the underside of the foliage. If there are not too many of these creatures, they are not a significant issue.
Otherwise, a massive infestation will cause stunted growth of your plant and the occurrence of twisted leaves covered with honeydew. It may encourage the infection with powdery mildew.
The best treatment is rinsing the plant with water and applying an adequate insecticidal soap. To prevent this disease, you can attract beneficial insects which feed on aphids.
You may notice these tiny, cotton-like insects on the underside of the foliage. They feed on leaves, which become wilted and drop off eventually.
Get rid of these bugs by using insecticidal soap or neem oil. Try to attract beneficial predator insects and naturally protect your garden.
These arachnids cause the occurrence of yellowish-green or red pinhead-sized spots on Heliotrope as well as white webbing all over it. This pest feeds on plant’s cells until killing them.
As a result, the foliage will wither, become yellow, and drop off prematurely. Treating plants with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil will help you to solve the problem.
You can spot them underside of the foliage sucking its juices. Consequently, leaves will start wilting and dying out. Put them under control by attracting ladybugs and lacewings, their natural predators.
Once whiteflies appear, rinse them off the leaves by spraying with a water-hose and remove damaged foliage.