February 18, 2016


An old-fashioned, hardy annual that has seen a resurgence in popularity, the heliotrope often is found by scent rather than by sight. Colorful clusters of small purple or blue blooms top off darker green foliage. Gardeners can’t seem to agree on its sweet scent; some think it  smells like vanilla, others claim it smells like baby powder, grapes, or cherry pie.

genus name
  • Heliotropium
  • Sun
plant type
  • 1 to 3 feet
  • From 1 to 2 feet
flower color
foliage color
season features
  • 11

Garden Plans For Heliotrope

Heliotrope Color

The abundant flower clusters bring a splash of color in a container garden or a flower bed. The most common color seen is a deep, rich purple. But when you look closely at the blooms, it's several shades of purple with tiny yellow centers. Many of the most common varieties claim to be blue flowers, however they are usually a fairly solid purple, and not quite a true blue. There are also some white variations of these blooms, as well as some pale lavenders to go along with the deeper purple shades.

Long, deeply veined leaves provide textural foliage that acts as a backdrop for the fragrant blooms. Overall, the plant is nice and shrubby. In a tropical setting, plants can reach up to three- to four-feet tall and wide. These shrubs can be almost completely covered in blooms during summer, and create quite a "scent-sation."

See our top picks for fragrant annuals.

How to Grow Heliotrope Plants

A heliotrope is easy to grow. Plants are generally happy with full sun and moderate moisture but can tolerate a bit of shade. In a shadier spot, some of the blooming potential is diminished. One of the best ways to use heliotrope is in containers. This way, the plants can be moved around so their sweet fragrance can be enjoyed soften. A heliotrope is also great to plant in groups to maximize their fragrance as it can be fairly subtle at times.

Because the flowers bloom in large clusters, they may need some periodic removal or deadheading of old blossoms to extend their bloom. This is also a good time to prune back the plant to encourage bushy growth development. 

As a whole, the heliotrope is fairly problem free, however in a very humid summer, if planted  in some shade, it can be susceptible to powdery mildew. This appears on the foliage of the plants as a powdery white substance. This generally will not kill the plant, but it can slow the plant's growth and is unsightly. To help prevent this, plant heliotrope in as much sun as possible, and make sure there is good airflow around the plants.  Also, avoid getting the foliage wet when watering, especially in the evening.

More Varieties of Heliotrope

'Fragrant Delight' helitrope

Heliotropium 'Fragrant Delight' bears soft purple, highly fragrant flowers on 3-foot-tall plants.

Plant Heliotrope With:

Angelonia is also called summer snapdragon, and once you get a good look at it, you'll know why. It has salvia-like flower spires that reach a foot or 2 high, but they're studded with fascinating snapdragon-like flowers with beautiful colorations in purple, white, or pink. It's the perfect plant for adding bright color to hot, sunny spaces. This tough plant blooms all summer long with spirelike spikes of blooms. While all varieties are beautiful, keep an eye out for the sweetly scented selections. While most gardeners treat angelonia as an annual, it is a tough perennial in Zones 9-10. Or, if you have a bright, sunny spot indoors, you can even keep it flowering all winter.

This unusual annual has beautiful blue-and-white flowers almost orchidlike in their beauty. A tropical shrub in the warmest parts of the country, Zones 8-11, duranta is grown in the rest of the country as an annual. It delights gardeners with its airy clusters of blue, violet, or white flowers followed by golden fruits. Plant it in a container and come fall, it will make a good indoor plant in a large, sunny, south-facing window.Watch for selections with variegated foliage; they add even more interest. As tropical shrubs, they can reach 15 feet or more, but when grown as annuals in cool regions, they seldom top 5 feet. Plant in spring in rich, well-drained soil after all danger of frost has passed. Fertilize moderately. Keep moist but do not overwater.

Elegant, silvery licorice plant is so useful to set off flowers in blue, white, purple, and other colors and to add contrast to plantings where you want more than just a mass of green. It's especially good in containers, where you can admire it up close and show off its spreading habit to best effect.Technically a tropical shrub, licorice plant is usually grown as an annual in the United States. It does best in full sun and well-drained soil.


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