Treat your Butterflies to some Cherry Pie

30 June 2013

One of the plants which is good for providing nectar for butterflies later in the summer, which you may find in the garden centres now is heliotrope, also called cherry pie plant because its scent is said to be reminiscent of this dessert. This photo is from years back, but I love the combination of colours of the Common Blue on the purple of the flower.

Common Blue on heliotrope 'Marine'

Common Blue on heliotrope ‘Marine’

The only heliotrope easily available is the one usually grown as an annual, called  ‘Marine’, and its smaller cousin ‘Dwarf Marine”. You can buy them as plants or start them from seed (though it’s too late for the latter this year). They seem rather slow to develop, but they bloom as some of the other flowers are fading away and will go on until the first frost.

There are other heliotropes, which are perennial if you can keep them really warm over the winter, and which you may be able obtain from some of the more specialist plant nurseries. I’ve got two. One is called ‘Chatsworth’, which is the same colour as ‘Marine’ but has a white centre and much the same level of scent. The other is a much lighter colour – more of a pale lilac, and goes by the name of ‘Dame Alice de Hales’ (I wonder who she was?); this one is the hardiest of these two, but has much less scent.

Left: heliotrope 'Chatsworth'. Right: heliotrope 'Dame Alice de Hales'

Left: heliotrope ‘Chatsworth’. Right: heliotrope ‘Dame Alice de Hales’

There is one other perennial still available, but sadly I’ve lost all my plants overwinter. It is called ‘White Lady’ and has the sweetest scent of any flower I’ve ever smelt – see below.

Left: Heliotrope 'White Lady'. Right: Meadow Brown on Heliotrope 'Marine'.

Left: Heliotrope ‘White Lady’. Right: Meadow Brown on Heliotrope ‘Marine’.

Unlike many flowers, heliotrope seems to attact a wide range of butterfly species – I’ve shown photos of a Blue and a Brown above, and I’ve also had Small Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals on them. Because I keep the perennial ones in the greenhouse over winter, I’ve got some in flower now, and I’ve put a couple out in the pots on my patio. To my delight, a Small Tortoiseshell nectared on ‘Chatsworth’ today – though was off before I could get a photo.

Regretfully, the range of perennial heliotrope available seems to be shrinking: ten years ago I had a catalogue listing seven or eight varieties, now you will have to search to find a couple. A supplier which usually has ‘Chatsworth’ and  ‘White Lady” is Special Plants, near Bath.


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