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Heliotrope Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Heliotrope Flower Meaning and Symbolism

The Heliotrope is an attractive old-fashioned, renaissance flowering plant symbolic of personal and cultural reasons. 

The most popular Heliotrope flower meaning is eternal love and devotion, inspired by a Greek myth from the 16th century. It can also symbolize acceptance, forgiveness, faith, and salvation.

Found growing worldwide, you can get Heliotrope in purple, blue, and whites. 

Heliotropes are fabulous flowers for cut arrangements or planted in pots or gardens with a notable fragrance and sight. But these flowers are toxic if ingested, requiring careful consideration when choosing where to plant these beauties.

About the Heliotrope Flower

The Heliotrope – genus Heliotropium – is a part of the Boraginaceae – borage (forget-me-nots) family. There are over 325 species of Heliotropum, the most common being H. arborescens – the cherry pie plant. 

Heliotropes are native around the globe, from Europe and Asia to Africa and Australia and the continents of the Americas. H. arborescens is a subtropic flower native to some parts of Peru.

This flower can reach eight feet wide and six feet tall when grown naturally. The rough-feeling lush green, ovate leaves grow alternate with prominent veins. In summer or fall, these flowers form clusters of blossoms, emerging as a dark purple. 

As the blooms age, they open and lighten to white, blue, pink, or purple clusters of flowers with a heady aroma growing on coiled, curvy stems. But when grown cultivated, Heliotrope work as a low shrub that rarely tops three feet in height. 


The Heliotrope flower has a glorious history dating back to the 16th century. In Europe, the “Doctrine of Signatures” described flower species that looked or acted like body parts to treat ailments for the corresponding body parts.

During this time, the function of a person’s breathing, vertebrae, and heart was thought to be under the control of the sun. 

Therefore, plants that follow the sun like Heliotrope could influence breathing and circulation and were used in medicines. But unfortunately, this theory was wrong, and now, we know that Heritropes are harmful to the liver. 

But there are tinctures made with Heliotrope that work as topical ointments for treating infections, calluses, warts, and wounds. In addition, Heliotrope essential oils are useful for massages. 

In the Philippines, juice from the greenery of H. Indicum – Indian Heliotrope – is an ingredient in traditional medicine for treating conjunctivitis, wounds, and ulcers.

The scents of Heliotrope, along with the bright, vivid colors, make these flowers suitable for use during color therapy and meditation. 

How to Grow Heliotropes

One popular way to grow Heliotropses is in containers due to the small size and because they aren’t invasive. These plants are also hardy species that aren’t susceptible to diseases or pests. 

The easiest way to get Heliotropes is to start your plants from seeds. However, you’ll need to start growing them indoors ten to twelve weeks before the last frost in spring to ensure your plants will blossom before fall’s first frost. 

The seeds should stay between 70 to 75-degrees Fahrenheit (or 12 to 24-degrees Celsius). Germination can take 28 to 42 days. Then you can transplant seedlings to a garden or outdoor pots after the last frost.

How to Care for Heliotropes

Heliotropes are summer bloomers that grow as annuals in all USDA hardiness zones except 10 and 11, where they can grow as perennials.

These plants need full sun exposure for at least six hours a day, preferably morning light. However, hot temperatures may burn these flowers, so a location with afternoon shade would be best.

You’ll also need to provide your flowers with lots of water. They do best with well-draining, rich, loamy soil that stays evenly moist. The pH should fall between 6.6 and 7.3. Plants growing in containers require more heavy and frequent watering than flowers in the ground.

Because Heliotropes are frost-tender, they’re typically grown as annuals in locations where they’re not native. But they also will not do well in excessively humid or hot climates. The best weather is a dry climate with cool nights and warm days.

In terms of maintenance, Heliotropes are low to medium in difficulty. However, your plants will do best with regular prunings, pinching, and deadheading to boost a denser growth and more luscious blooms. 

You can start with pinch backs during early spring if your plants have better lateral growth. But it can cause a delay in when your flowers start to bloom. But the reward is larger, more noticeable blooms that last the rest of the season.

You will need to stay vigilant about fertilizing Heliotropes throughout the growing season. Garden plants need monthly fertilizing. But flowers grown in containers can need fertilizing half as often, roughly every two weeks. Choose a flowering plant fertilizer with a high phosphorus concentrate.

What to Plant With Heliotrope Flowers

Heliotrope flowers can pair with multiple companions to create wow-worthy gardens. Popular cultivars grown along with Heliotrope include Angelonia – Summer snapdragons – Duranta, and Licorice Plant.  

Are Heliotrope Flowers Poisonous?

The Heliotrope flower is gorgeous but deadly, containing poisonous alkaloids on the leaves, roots, stems, and flowers. Coming into contact with any part of the toxic plant can result in digestive issues and liver damage if ingested in large quantities. 

Potential symptoms of consuming Heliotrope include:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Neurological issues
  • Liver failure

When ingested by horses, dogs, humans, livestock, or cats over time, severe liver damage can occur. But the heady fragrance of the trumpet-shaped flowers is excellent for pollinator gardens to attract butterflies and bees.

What Do Heliotropes Smell Like?

Heliotropes exude a fragrant scent with different fragrances, including sugar, vanilla, fresh cherries, or baked cherry pie. The aroma varies by strain and by the plant. 

What Is the Heliotrope Flower Meaning and Symbolism? 

The Heliotrope is a traditional symbol of announcing devotion and eternal love. These meanings come from the flower’s interesting behavior of turning towards the sun. 

But it can also mean resilience and passion. And these meanings also create connections with fire, such as the passion felt for another person. Meanings connected with the fire element include authority, enthusiasm, motivation, purification, and creativity.

In the 5th century AD., Neoplatonic Greek philosopher – Proclus – theorized that Heliotrope flowers turned with the sun because they were praying to the Gods. 

The word “heliotrope” combines two Greek words: helios – sun – and trepein – to turn. Combined, you get “hēliotropion,” or a plant that turns flowers towards the sun. In Latin, it becomes the genus name, heliotropism. 

This name comes from the flower’s ability to move throughout the day always to face the sun. Another word for the same meaning is the Middle English “turnsole.”

From heliotropium, the name further evolved to the Old English “elliotropus.” And then combined with the French word “héliotrope” to create the common Heliotrope we use today.

The nickname “cherry pie” is symbolic of the scent some strains of Heliotrope produce, resembling cooked cherries, sugar, and other sweets. 

“White Queen” is another variation that produces sharp white flowers, influencing the species’ nickname.  

Symbolism of a Heliotrope Tattoo

Getting a Heliotrope tattoo is common due to the flower’s long clusters of tiny flower blossoms. Many people choose this symbol to represent devotion to another person – typically a spouse, partner, or a person to whom there is a romantic attraction.

Heliotrope Flower Meaning Based on Color

Heliotropes come in multiple colors, each with unique meanings. The most common color is purple, but they also come in white, pink, and blue blossoms. 


The majority of Heliotrope clusters are purple. This vivid color is symbolic of a love that’s more than a physical attraction. You can use purple to show pride, spirituality, accomplishment, or feelings of admiration, compassion, or congratulations. 

It can also represent a connection between two people, touching the other person’s soul. And purple flowers also connect with tradition and royalty, implied by history’s connection with purple and royal dynasties. 


The second most common color for Heliotrope is white. White can also symbolize a shared love between two people. But unlike the meaning of purple, the love represented with a white blossom is innocent and pure. 

This love is an honest expression that doesn’t require holding anything back. You can also use white for expressing sympathy for someone, making them a popular choice for condolences.


Blue heliotropes can be more challenging to find due to the color’s rarity. However, you can use blue to act as a balance of symbolism between white and purple Heliotropes. Blue flowers can mean trust, peace, serenity, intimacy, or contemplation. 

White’s representation of an honest, intimate love and purple’s meaning of romantic love, give blue a symbolic meaning of a serene love that calms a distressed heart. This personal link also makes blue flowers representative of intimate love. 

What Is the Cultural Significance of a Heliotrope?

The meaning of the Heliotrope flower started with a Greek myth. According to legend, a water nymph named Clytie fell in love with Helios, the God of the Sun. But Helios left Clytie for another woman. 

As Clytie mourned for the loss of her love, she sat in one place, only turning her head as she watched Helios’ chariot fly across the sky every day. Then, after she wasted away, Helios turned her into a flower that continued to track the sun’s progress.

This love story caused those in Victorian times to consider the Heliotrope symbolic of eternal love and devotion. As a result, there have been numerous references to Greek legend in art and poems throughout the centuries. 

You can find mentions in paintings by Elizabeth Colomba, sculptures from George Frederic Watts, and Metamorphoses by Ovid. 

When to Give Someone a Heliotrope Flower

Heliotrope flowers make fantastic gifts for nearly every occasion. The rich scent and vivid color can say congratulations, get well, birthdays, anniversaries, romantic gestures, and weddings. 

You can gift Heliotropes as cut floral arrangements, bouquets, decorative pots, or containers to plant outdoors.


The Heliotrope is a stunning flower to grow for a heady, intoxicating aroma and heavy bounties of tiny, vibrant flowers. The Heliotrope is a shocking combination of beauty and danger, most commonly seen in purple and representing devotion and everlasting love. 

Be wary of this bloom’s dangerous toxins, lest you – or an animal – become an unsuspecting victim lured by a pretty face and sweet scent.