Heat-Loving Heliotrope Flourishes in Hot Summers

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UT Gardens’ May Plant of the Month

Submitted by Celeste Scott, Area Horticulture Specialist, UT Extension

In 2021, we trialed Heliotrope Augusta® Lavender at the University of Tennessee Gardens, Jackson, for the first time. Jason Reeves, horticulturist at UT Gardens, Jackson, and I highlighted this plant on our regular Facebook Live sessions for the gardens and bantered each week over how long the young plants would survive our heat and humidity. My memories of Heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens, from years ago with its dark green leaves, towering dark purple blossoms, and intoxicating vanilla grape scent were a strange mix of admiration and disappointment. I routinely purchased this plant on impulse year after year, enjoyed them in mixed containers for a brief time, then came to terms with their demise when the high temps of summer descended. This was a plant of nostalgia but not of longevity for our growing conditions.   

However, Heliotrope Augusta® Lavender, Heliotropium hybrid, quickly expelled all our hesitancy and ridicule. As temperatures began to rise, this hybrid thrived in full sun and only improved as the season progressed. Augusta® Lavender differs in so many ways from the old-fashioned Heliotropes. It has a tight upright mounding growth habit, reaching 12-18 inches tall and wide and bearing from May until frost, a nearly constant cover of clustered lavender flowers that extend beyond its foliage canopy. Augusta® Lavender prefers full sun with well-drained soil and is drought tolerant once established. It performs well in both containers and landscapes and remains a favorite of bees and butterflies. As if we needed another reason to love this plant, it has proven to be reliably perennial in Jackson (zone 7) for three years, but it is typically grown and marketed as an annual. The only downfall of Heliotrope Augusta® Lavender may be its complete lack of fragrance, which some may consider a fair trade for all of its newly acquired attributes.

Heliotrope Augusta® Lavender can be found at UT Gardens, Jackson, in the annual trial berm plantings. It has not yet been grown at the UT Gardens locations in Crossville or Knoxville.

The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Crossville and Jackson, Tennessee. Designated as the official botanical garden for the state of Tennessee, the UT Gardens are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The Gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The Gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public.

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