Heliotropium peninsulare

white heliotrope


Heliotropium peninsulare

Craven 1996

pronounced: he-lee-oh-TROH-pee-um pen-in-sul-LAH-ree

(Boraginaceae — the comfrey family)

common name: white heliotrope

native 4Heliotropium is from two Greek words, 'ηλιος (helios), the sun, and τροπη (tropé), turning. The Old English name for these plants was ‘turnsole’, a word that reached England via a French translation of the word ‘heliotrope’.

I am reasonably sure that this plant has been identified correctly – there is very little information available about the species, but it does appear to be the only white heliotrope, apart from Heliotropium pauciflorum, reported on Magnetic Island, and the latter has smooth leaf margins. Pauciflorum means ‘few flowers’, and this makes the species hard to spot! A third species of heliotrope reported on the island is Heliotropium indicum.

White heliotrope is a herb growing to about 20 cm in height, with its leaves anything up to 15 mm long by 2 mm wide in size, shortly petiolate, and hairy. It grows as a small ground cover on exposed slopes. Flowers are tiny, only about 4 mm across, and white. The specific peninsulare infers that the plant is found on a peninsula, presumably Cape York Peninsula.

When heliotropes are cultivated for their flowers, the species most commonly used is Heliotropium arborescens. These are short, compact plants reaching at most to 60 cm, and about 30 cm in diameter. The very small flowers, long appreciated for their aroma, grow in rounded bunches that can be quite large. In southern Europe the species is grown commercially as an ingredient for perfume. It also attracts butterflies.


Photographs aken on the slopes above Rocky Bay 2011
Page last updated 12th January 2019