Mostly famous for its scent, Heliotrope (Heliotropiumarborescens) is a very old-fashioned plant. Its scent is almost intoxicating with a hint of vanilla. The plant flowers in white, light purple and deep purple flowers that are a striking cut flower filling the room with fragrance. The deep green leaves are quite the garden accent with any other plant because of the contrast in color.
Heliotrope is sometimes called ‘Cherry Pie’. The herb, valerian is sometimes called garden heliotrope, but it is not heliotrope. True heliotrope is Heliotropium. The name heliotrope comes from the Greek helios for the sun and trepein meaning to turn. Thus, we have the word, Heliotropism, applied to a tendency of other plants or other organisms to turn or bend to the influence of light, especially sunlight. Heliotrope is a member of the borage family.
Heliotrope brings to mind English maidens with their tussie-mussies and the flower language that was all the rage in Victorian England. Heliotrope fragrance in the center of a young girl’s tussie-mussie is the sentiment of ‘devotion’ expressed by her suitor. Heliotrope is also a friendship flower in the language of herbs, symbolizing both devoted affection and attachment.
Heliotrope is a tall, slender, semi-woody perennial grown as an annual in most areas. The plant flowers well in half shade with lush, fragrant flowers ranging from dark violet to white in color. “Black Beauty” and “Iowa” each produce deep purple flowers, which are the most fragrant. Butterflies and caterpillars find the leaves particularly tasty.
If you are in a fairly mild climate, this delightful plant grows up to four feet in height, and has a shrubby appearance. Its leaves are veined and have a darkish purple cast. Grown in a container, it can be wintered indoors or the roots alone will winter when given the same treatment many gardeners give to fushias – in barely moist dirt in a chilly garage. In warm climates where heliotrope is a perennial, cut the open-ground plant halfway to the ground each spring to produce bushy growth.