How to Grow and Care for Heliotropes

Heliotropes arborescens plant with purple flowers

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The heliotrope flower (Heliotropium) is a genus of flowering plants in the Boraginaceae family containing around 325 species. They are popular flowering perennials thanks to their stunning, aromatic, and delicate old cottage garden-style flowers. Heliotrope flowers are tiny flowers that grow in clusters that follow the sun, which led to their name which is directly derived from the Greek words helios (meaning ‘sun) and tropos (meaning ‘to turn’). Some gardeners describe the scent of the flowers as vanilla, while others insist they smell like cherry pie. Plant fast-growing heliotropes outdoors in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. This plant is toxic to humans and animals. Learn how to grow these attractive tender-perennials in your garden.

Common Name Heliotrope, cherry pie plant
Botanical Name Heliotropium
Family Boraginaceae
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 1-4 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Rich, well-draining
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Summer, fall
Flower Color White, lavender, purple
Hardiness Zones 9-11 (USDA)
Native Area Peru
Toxicity Toxic to humans and animals

Heliotropes Care

Heliotropes are temperate perennials that are native to the subtropical regions of Peru. When grown outside of their native range, heliotropes are usually grown as annuals as they are half-hardy and highly frost-tender. They are considered low- to medium-maintenance plants that benefit from some regular care.

Heliotrope arborescens with purple flowers and leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Heliotrope arborescens plant with purple flowers on stem

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

 Heliotrope arborescens plant with purple flowers cluster and leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

 Heliotrope arborescens plant with purple flowers cluster

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova


Heliotropes are full-sun plants that require at least six hours a day of direct sunlight. However, they prefer the morning sun, and in hot climates, intense afternoon rays may burn the delicate flowers. A location that receives bright morning sunlight and light shade in the afternoon is ideal. 


Plant heliotropes in rich, loamy soil that is well-draining but retains some water. They prefer soil that is rich in organic matter, with a pH between 6.6 and 7.3. Heliotropes do not do well in heavy clay soils as they cannot tolerate wet feet.


Heliotropes require lots of water to thrive. Keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged, and don’t allow the plants to dry out. When grown in containers, heliotropes will need to be watered significantly more often as the plant will absorb the water more quickly. 

Temperature and Humidity

Heliotropes grow best in dry climates with warm days and cool nights. They do not do well in overly hot or humid weather and they are highly frost-tender. They grow well in USDA zones 9 through 11. 


Heliotropes are notoriously heavy feeders that need to be fertilized regularly throughout their growing season. When grown in the garden, heliotropes should be fertilized at least once a month. When grown in containers, they should be fertilized as often as every two weeks. Use a fertilizer high in phosphorus that is meant for flowering plants.

Types of Heliotropes

There are many different varieties and cultivars of heliotropes. Here are a few popular heliotropes:

  • ' Princess Marina' (Heliotropium arborescens): This is a compact heliotrope, but it is the quintessential cherry pie-scented version with violet-purple blooms, growing just 6 to 12 inches tall.
  • Clasping heliotrope (Heliotropium amplexicaule): Also known as blue or summer heliotrope, this plant produces tiny bright purple flower clusters that attract pollinators.
  • Beach heliotrope (Heliotropium anomalum): A native Hawaiian plant, this pretty ground-covering type of plant has silvery skinny leaf clusters that shoot up fragrant white flower clusters.
  • Salt heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum): Also called seaside heliotrope, this aggressive plant thrives in wet or dry and salty soils and produces white blooms with yellow and purple throats.

Propagating Heliotropes

Heliotropes can be propagated by cuttings or seeds. Propagate from stem cuttings in the spring or summer and follow these steps:

  1. Take 4- to 5-inch stem cuttings from an outdoor heliotrope plant that's fleshy and green.
  2. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting and dip it in rooting hormone
  3. Put the cutting in a pot of moistened soil.
  4. Place the pot on a sill with bright, indirect light. Avoid direct sunlight or the young plant can become scorched while trying to root.
  5. Keep the cuttings moist.
  6. After a few weeks the cuttings should root. Begin to bring the pots into brighter, more direct sunlight. Keep cuttings overwintered indoors.
  7. Transplant outdoors or into a container garden in the spring.

How to Grow Heliotropes From Seed

Growing heliotropes from seed can be the easiest and most popular way to grow these flowering perennials. Seeds should be started indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost to ensure that the plants have time to bloom before the first frost hits in the fall. Heliotrope seeds should be kept at a temperature between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and should germinate within 28 to 42 days. Once the last frost has passed, the heliotrope seedlings can be transplanted into the garden or a container outdoors. 

Potting and Repotting Heliotropes

Heliotropes are perfect for pots because they are not invasive and they won’t take over your container garden. They are also not prone to any serious pests or diseases. Keep in mind that heliotrope plants grown in containers will require significantly more water than plants grown in the garden.


Growing heliotropes in containers also means that they can be easily overwintered indoors if desired. Bring the plant indoors before the first frost. Place in a cool room on a sill with bright, indirect sunlight that will not scorch the plant. Water in small amounts to keep the plant from drying out. Do not place the plants near a heat source or risk dry soil. Bring back outdoors in the spring when temperatures rise consistently over 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Watch for aphidsmealybugsspider mitesfungus gnats, and whiteflies, which can all be treated with insecticidal soap or neem oil to resolve the infestation. Though the plant is not susceptible to many diseases, keep an eye out for fungal problems, such as powdery mildew, which occurs when air and soil conditions are very warm and dry.

How to Get Heliotropes to Bloom

Regular pinching and deadheading of your outdoor heliotrope plant will encourage more veracious, consistent blooms and a bushier, denser growth habit. You can begin pinching back the stems and flowers in the early spring to encourage more lateral growth. This may delay the initial bloom but you will be rewarded with larger and more prolific blooms throughout the rest of the season. Indoor heliotrope may have a tougher time blooming, so make sure it's moist enough, fertilized, and receives enough bright light.

Common Problems With Heliotropes

Indoors or out, heliotrope does not pose too many problems. Keep an eye out for a few rare issues.

Brown Flower Clusters

You may have dry conditions favorable to powdery mildew. Remove damaged flowers to encourage further blooms. Water the soil to keep it from becoming bone dry, but do not overwater.

General Drooping

A droopy heliotrope could be stressed because it's in too much sunlight, or it's overwatered. Though the plant likes it on the dry side, it does not like to feel scorched, parched, or soggy.

Discolored or Brown Leaves

Check for a spider mite infestation. Spider mites suck out moisture from leaves. They can be discovered by their white webs forming on the undersides of the leaves. Sap-sucking whiteflies could be another problem, and they can be seen by the naked eye. Use insecticidal soaps on pest infestations. Brown leaves can also mean the plant is receiving too much water.

  • What is heliotrope good for?

    Heliotrope is lovely as a fragrant garden border, grown in window boxes or cascading over the edge of hanging baskets.

  • Is heliotrope a good houseplant?

    Heliotropes make great indoor houseplants and container plants because they are small plants. But remember they are toxic to humans and animals.

  • What does heliotrope smell like?

    Depending on your nose, heliotrope can smell like almonds, vanilla, or cherry pie.

Article Sources
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  1. Poisonous Plant Heliotrope. George Mason University.

  2. Poisonous Plant Heliotrope. George Mason University.