Plant of the Month — February 2009

Heliotropium glabellum R.Br.

Find out more about Heliotropium glabellum R.Br.

Heliotropium glabellum is a small, annual or short-lived perennial herb with an erect or ascending habit growing to 1 m tall. Its flowers of white, yellow or orange are on show from January to August (primarily) and can be enjoyed throughout the Kimberley region. Heliotropium glabellum grows in a variety of habitats both coastal and inland, and can be found often on skeletal soils over quartzite, basalt or sandstone.

Heliotropium comes from the Greek and Latin of the same name and is applied to several plants, the flower heads of which were believed to turn with the sun; from helios — sun, plus trope — a turn, a solstice, when the sun appears to turn in its course. The species name glabellum derives from the Latin glabellus — without hair, glabrous.

Heliotropium glabellum belongs to the family Boraginaceae and was named and described by Robert Brown (born Montrose, Scotland 1773; died 1858). In December 1800 he accepted an offer of the position of naturalist on board the Investigator under Matthew Flinders, about to depart on its historic voyage to chart the coastline of Australia. The Investigator arrived in King George Sound in what is now Western Australia in December 1801. For three and a half years Brown undertook intensive botanic research in Australia, collecting about 3400 species, of which about 2000 were previously unknown to science. He remained in Australia until May 1805.

On his return to Britain, Brown worked on this gathered material, preparing detailed species descriptions; in Western Australia alone he is the author of nearly 1200 species. In 1810, Brown published the results in the Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae Van Diemen, the first systematic account of the Australian flora, and in which Heliotropium glabellum was first described.

Photo: C.P. Campbell

Find out more about Heliotropium glabellum R.Br.

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