Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 789 Heliotropium arboresecens

Common Names: common heliotrope, cherry pie, turnsole Family: Boraginaceae (borage Family)

The compact shape and ultra-violet-blue flowers of 'Marine' make it a favorite for butterfly gardens.


There are about 250 species of Heliotropium; this is one of the most commonly cultivated species and it is usually just called "heliotrope." Common heliotrope is an evergreen soft-wooded sub-shrub that is often grown as an annual bedding plant. It is rounded and bushy and usually stays no more than 12-18 in (30.5-45.7 cm) tall with a similar spread, but can get as tall as 4 ft (1.2 m). The elliptic leaves are wrinkled, hairy, 1-3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) long, and the leaf veins are conspicuously impressed. The violet, purple or white tubular flowers are only a quarter inch long but are borne in showy many flowered clusters 3-4 in (7.6- cm) across. The flowers open alternately, on the left, then the right, unfolding from coiled clusters of buds. They are strongly scented. Among the many named selections are 'Alba' with white flowers that smell like vanilla; 'Marine', a very bushy compact plant to 18 in (45.7 cm) tall with deep violet-blue flowers in clusters up to 10 in (25.4 cm) across; and 'Lord Robert' with purple tinged leaves. The Regal Hybrids have rose and lavender flowers.


Common heliotrope, Heliotropium arborsecens, is originally from Peru.


When grown as a perennial shrub, either in the ground or in a container, heliotropes should be cut back hard in early spring to increase bushiness. Plants grown as annuals can be tip-pinched. Light: Grow common heliotrope where it gets full sun in the morning, but some relief in the afternoon, especially in hot climates and especially for plants in containers. Moisture: Heliotrope is not tolerant of drought, so provide plenty of water during dry periods in the growing season. They need less water in winter. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Heliotropes are commonly grown as annuals in temperate regions, or in containers that can be brought indoors during freezing weather. They may need protection from frost in zone 9. Propagation: The species can be propagated from seed sown at 60-65º F (15.6-18.3 ºC). Named cultivars are propagated from stem tip cuttings of semi-ripe wood in summer. Peg young, fast growing shoots to the ground in spring and they will take root.


Grow heliotropes in the annual flower bed. This is a popular flower for porch planters and window boxes. Heliotropes are especially nice when grown in containers up high enough so that the sweet fragrance of the flowers can be appreciated. In frost-free areas, position heliotropes in the front of mixed perennial and shrub borders. Place in front of pentas for a real butterfly treat.

In cooler Zones grow common heliotrope as an annual.


Common heliotrope is cultivated commercially in southern Europe for oils that are extracted from the flowers to make perfume. Some people say the scent is like stewed cherries, hence one of the common names.


Contact with heliotrope foliage may irritate eyes and sensitive skin. All parts are poisonous if ingested.

Steve Christman 9/2/00; updated 10/13/03

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Heliotropium species profiled on Floridata:

Heliotropium arboresecens

( common heliotrope, cherry pie, turnsole )

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