The Heliotrope also known as European Heliotrope, Caterpillar Weed or Heliotropium europaeum is one of the sun loving wild flowers of Crete. Its Latin name of Heliotropium europaeum is from the Greek words 'helios' meaning sun and 'tropaios' meaning to turn back and refers to the flowers following the sun.
The flowers of the Heliotrope turn to face the intense rays of the sun throughout the summer months here on the Greek Island of Crete.
You’ll come across the white curled, spiral flower European Heliotrope along roadsides, fields and within olive groves. The flower spirals are coiled at the top of each downy stem and are quite small.
Each stem has two rows of flowers and every flower at the top of each spiral is white with a central yellow colour. And each flower has 5 petals forming a lovely delicate star shape.
The curly shape and hairy stem is where the Heliotrope gets the name of Caterpillar Weed. The plant grows in clumps and is from the Boraginaceae family of plants.
I’ve read that it has an offensive smell but I’ve not found this to be the case at all. Quite the opposite in fact. I find the fragrance is really quite strong and very beautiful. It reminds me very much of the scent of Jasmine.
It is more prevalent in western Crete in the Chania prefecture although I have seen it in Rethymnon and Heraklion. It flowers from April to October but it’s at its best in August. The month of August has the European Heliotrope as one of its flowers and magically picking one sprig in the month of August will bring tenfold good luck to you!
It is apparently for very poisonous to sheep and humans – so take care!
Like many plants, herbs and wild flowers growing in Greece and the Greek Islands there is a Greek myth as to its origin. In Greek mythology there was said to be a Nymph named Clytie who adored the sun god Apollo. She gazed at him longingly as he drove his chariot through the heavens from early morning rising in the east to high above at midday right through as evening fell in the west.
Apollo did not cast a glance at Clytie and in despair she began weeping and fell to the bare ground. For nine days and nights she did not eat or drink and stayed upon the ground looking upwards following the path that Apollo took in the sky each day.
Her limbs became rooted in the ground and green leaves enveloped her and tiny flowers covered her face. In this way she changed into a flower and evermore became known as Heliotrope gazing upwards and following the sun.
We can highly recommend the excellent and informative hand book named Wild Flowers of Crete in which Heliotrope features. It is expertly written and photographed by Vangelis Papiomitoglou. The text and images are a real boon to the explorer wanting to easily identify the many wild flowers of Crete. A crucial and affordable handbook for all nature lovers of the flora and fauna of Crete.
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