The Neuse River Trail Heliotrope – Heliotropium indicum

Indian Heliotrope, Heliotropium indicum, is an introduced annual, probably from Tropical America.  It is uncommon in North Carolina, being absent from the Western Piedmont and the Mountains.  It is seen occasionally in small, isolated populations along the Neuse River Trail.  Unlike the garden Heliotrope (H. arborescens), which is known for its bright purple flowers and wonderful scent, Indian Heliotrope is considered an invasive and troublesome weed in many parts of the world.

Its small but beautiful flowers are reminiscent of Forget-me-nots, which are its close relatives in the Borage Family, the Boraginaceae.

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Flowers

The flowers bloom in elongated, gracefully curved clusters, with the younger flowers occurring  near the end of the cluster, and the older flowers beginning to turn to  seed at the base.

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Flowers

Photos of several populations are shown below.  Some are small and mingled with grasses at  ground level, and some are shrub-like, four to five feet tall.

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Small Population

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Large Population

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Large Population

The typical plant form is illustrated by the two photos that follow.  The plants tend to be broad and low to the ground initially, rising in height as they begin to bloom.

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Plant Form

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Plant Form

The flower clusters can be elongated and very striking.   Their appearance gave rise to the common names Scorpion Weed and Scorpion Tail.

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Elongated Flower Clusters

The leaves are broad and ovate, with a wrinkled upper surface, and are usually (but not always) alternate on the stem.

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Leaf Front

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Leaf Back

Heliotropium indicum
Indian Heliotrope
Stem

An interesting attribute of Heliotropes – their  flowers turn and follow the sun as it travels across the sky.  The name was based on the Greek for sun (Helios) and (trope) for turning or tropism.  Turnsole, an old English term with a similar meaning, is also another common name for Heliotrope, and is the common name used for Heliotropium indicum in Weakley’s Flora.

Herb Amyx

 

 

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