Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Wild Heliotrope

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Wild Heliotrope
Scientific Name:Heliotropium curassavicum
Family:Boraginaceae (Borage)
Plant Type:Perennial
Size:up to 15 inches
Habitat:Moist to Dry Saline Soils
Blooms:April to November
Fire Response:Stump Sprout or Seed

Wild Heliotrope or Heliotropium curassavicum is a Perennial Herb that favors disturbed saline soils (moist or dry), grows in dense stands and can handle cold well enough to thrive in other mountain ranges in North and South America at elevations up to 6,300 feet.

I located these plants in Pt. Mugu State Park. Other common names for this flower are Salt Heliotrope (hence the saline soils preference) as well as Quail Plant (Quail eat the seeds). Appearance-wise the plant is a fleshy (the leaves are fleshy enough to be described as succulent), bluish-green, smooth plant with leafy stems low to the ground - the proper term this is prostrate, the most striking feature of this plant are coils of small, white or purplish-tinged flowers. Often these coils will be paired creating a very symmetrical appearance. The height of the plant can vary from six inches to about fifteen inches.
This perennial has several strategies for survival and proliferation. Wild Heliotrope can reproduce by seed or can develop from shoots (rhizomes) and buds. Once the plant has established itself in an area, seed germination is of less importance and further growth is thru the spreading of the shoots and buds. As for pollination, the flowers change colors from white-yellow to purple. This strategy leads pollinators away from fertilized flowers towards the unfertilized flowers and has to be similar to Lupines that go thru a color changing process. In Lupines the plant releases Ethylene gas to make this happen and is the same gas that ripens tomatoes and bananas.
This plant is a member of the same plant family as Phacelias - the one obvious trail is the coiled strand of flowers. The flowers are quite small and numerous, often appear in the varying stages of growth. The five sharply pointed petals with their delicate shades of color certainly add some beauty to the outdoor experience!
Name Origin: "heliotrope" derives from the old idea that the inflorescences of these plants turned their rows of flowers to the sun. The species name - curassavi'ca/curassavi'cum: the -ica suffix shows that this is a place name from Curacao, an island in the Dutch West Indies where one of the first collections were made (thanks to for this description)

Wild Heliotrope - Originally featured: March 2017
Last modified: July 10 2017 10:13:03.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves