Heliotrope: Learning How to Grow and Tend to the Tropical Plant

Updated April 7, 2021
Beautiful Fairy Magic Purple Violet Blue Heliotropium Arborescens

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) is a tropical perennial plant grown for its dusky foliage and wonderfully fragrant deep purple flowers. It's also called cherry pie plant because the vanilla-like fragrance of the blossoms resembles that of freshly baked cherry pie.

Gardening Guide for Growing Heliotrope

The typical dwarf heliotrope will grow about 1 - 2 feet tall. However, in ideal conditions, non-dwarf plants will grow between 2 - 6 feet tall with a 6 - 8 foot spread.

Heliotrope Flower Colors for Vibrant Garden

The heliotrope flowers bloom almost continuously. The flat-topped flowers are 3 to 4 inches in diameter and are commonly seen in shades of purple, although blue, pink, and white varieties are available.

Meadows of Heliotrope Ridge North Cascades

Oval Leaves Add Green and Purple Contrast

The oval-shaped leaves grow up to 3 inches in length and are as ornamental as the flowers. They are deeply veined with a dark green color and purplish glow that matches the flower color.

Where to Plant Heliotrope

Most gardeners use heliotrope as a bedding plant, although they are suitable for other applications. You can also place these beautiful flowering plants in pots and containers for a stunning addition to your patio landscaping. You need to plant heliotrope in the spring after the danger of frost has passed.

Heliotrope Plant Cannot Survive Freezing Temperatures

Heliotrope is native to mountainous tropical regions in Peru, where daytime temperatures are relatively cool and nighttime temperatures never dip below freezing. It can be grown year round as a shrub in USDA Hardiness Zone 9b. Although heliotrope isn't frost hardy, it also doesn't like extreme heat, making it unsuitable for the southernmost states. All these temperature requirements make Heliotrope a good annual bedding plant since it cannot survive temperatures below freezing.

Heliotrope Plant Varieties

There are a few forms of heliotrope commonly seen with different flower colors and growth habits. All of these varieties are hardy in USDA zone 9b.

  • Alba is a white-flowering variety that grows 2 - 3 feet tall.
  • The Fragrant Delight variety will grow up to 18 inches tall and produce deep purple blossoms that fade to light purple.
  • Dwarf Marine grows to just 10 inches tall and has vibrant blue flowers.
Heliotropium indicum

Grow a Heliotrope Plant in Beds or Containers

In frost-free climates, heliotrope is grown as a small evergreen shrub. It is either planted directly into the ground or set in a pot. You can plant the heliotrope as a wonderful perennial for a flower border to mix in with other tropical species. Heliotrope plants are an excellent candidate for a container garden, giving cold climate growers the option of moving the plant indoors for winter.

potted heliotrope

Take Advantage of Heliotrope Flower Colors

You can take full advantage of the heliotrope range of colors by displaying them in hanging baskets. You can find dwarf heliotrope that are ideal for creating a showcase of flower clusters in hanging baskets.

Shade Loving Heliotrope Plant

The heliotrope plant tolerates full sun in the coolest climates. However, this plant prefers partial shade during summer in most of the growing regions.

Soil, Water, and Fertilizer Requirements

To ensure your plant produces an abundance of flowers, you want to use the proper soil, water adequately, and not over fertilize. A few tips for these requirements can be helpful.

Spongy Soil That Drains

Heliotrope needs a rich, spongy soil with excellent drainage. If grown in the ground, enriching the soil with compost and planting it in a raised bed are two keys to success. Heliotrope is commonly found in garden centers and nurseries grouped with the bedding plants. The plant is easiest to grow in a pot with a soilless potting mix. This type of potting mix provides the perfect spongy soil conditions that it requires.

Consistent Watering

A heliotrope plant requires regular watering. You should never allow the soil to dry out. During the summer months, the plant may need to be watered every day to prevent it from drying out. This is especially true if you're growing the heliotrope in a pot.

Light Fertilizing

Heliotrope plants don't require much fertilizing and should be fertilized with an all-purpose fertilizer. To promote blooming, make sure you cut off the dead flowers as they fade. In climates where heliotrope is marginally winter hardy, a deep layer of mulch over the root zone can mean the difference in the plant surviving the winter.

Pests, Diseases, and Toxicity

When you care for your Heliotrope plant and follow the growing tips, your plant will be quite resistant to pests and diseases. There are a few pests and diseases that can quickly overpower even healthy plants, so you want to be vigilant in caring for your plant.

Spider Mites

Spider mites are a common problem for heliotropes that are grown indoors. If your plant has a spider mite infestation, you can spray an insecticidal soap to kill the mites. Before treating with the insecticidal soap, you may want to use a sink sprayer to hose the spider mites off the plant and down the drain,

Spider mite colony

Fungi Growth in Tropical Climates

Fungal pathogens will cause the plant leaves to shrivel and turn brown. Fungus is a constant threat in hot, moist conditions. However, a fungal infection can be easily treated with a fungicide when caught in the early stages.

Heliotrope Toxicity

All parts of the heliotrope plant are considered toxic if ingested for both people and animals. This is only true in cases where a person consumes large quantities. Such cases of poisoning are quite rare. However, horses are especially vulnerable to the poisons found in heliotrope and will suffer liver damage if ingested. Horses and other animals generally steer clear of the bad tasting plant.

Grow Heliotrope for Garden Colors and Fragrance

The heliotrope plant offers a rich palette of colors for a wonderful addition to a flower garden, flower bed, or container grouping. You can grow heliotrope in your garden or home to enjoy its perfume rich fragrance.

Heliotrope: Learning How to Grow and Tend to the Tropical Plant