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“Smell the Heliotrope!”
Each year during high school, our English teachers took us downtown to the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre to see a live play. My favorite was “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. It is about a typical American town of the late 1930s and a typical American girl named Emily Webb Gibbs. I remember that Emily loved the smell of Heliotrope – another one of our “grandmother” plants.
Heliotrope or Cherry Pie (Heliotropium arborescens) is grown as an annual outdoors in our area. The purple flowers in large clusters are lovely and bloom in summer through fall. Their fragrance is usually described as vanilla-like but reminds me of Amaretto almond liqueur. The rough textured, oval, deep green leaves are about 3 inches long. It does well in the garden and in containers and grows to about 18 inches tall. It can even be grown as a summer houseplant. Pinching the tips all over the plant will force new side growth and make the plant compact and bushy – or you can remove the side shoots until the plant gets up to about 18 inches—and then start pinching back the tips. Since it is a perennial broadleaf evergreen shrub native to Peru, it can be grown in a container outside in summer and put in a bright, cool (50F) room over winter.
Heliotrope or Cherry Pie is also known as “turnsole,” because its flowers and leaves turn toward the sun as it travels from east to west during the day and turns back to east at night. In fact, the name “heliotrope” means to move with the sun.
You can grow common heliotrope from heirloom seed or you may choose a particular cultivar resulting from controlled breeding. Marine is a popular cultivar that you can grow from hybrid seed or purchase as a bedding plant in spring.
Now back to Our Town. In the final act, Emily realizes how much we take for granted in our day to day lives – things like the scent of heliotrope and even bacon frying in a pan. So follow the lead of our leading lady and take time out to enjoy and appreciate simple pleasures. Don’t forget to smell the heliotrope!
Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500.