Almost hiding the ground with its leaves, Winter heliotrope is a creeping, patch-forming perennial plant that thrives in damp places, often beneath trees and shrubs where it may well overpower other herbaceous plants. The rounded leaves are present all year, then the flowers appear from December to March, although are at their best at the beginning of January.
The pinkish-lilac flowers are 10-12mm across, have a delicious vanilla or heliotrope scent and are carried in spikes 20-25mm long.
Fruits are achenes.
The leaves are present all year round. They are a pleasing rounded heart shape, green above and greyish beneath, measure about 20mm across and are long-stalked.
The name heliotrope derives from the old idea that the inflorescences of the plant turned their rows of flowers to follow the sun. Helios is Greek for ‘sun’ and trepeine means ‘to turn.’
Heliotrope is much used in the perfume industry and features in many popular fragrances.
Heliotrope is also the name of a colour taken from the pink-purple of the flowers of a species of this family of plants, first recorded as a colour name in English in 1882.