Helichrysum stoechas (Curry Plant)

Helichrysum stoechas commonly called Curry Plant, Common Shrubby Everlasting, or Eternal Flower, is a small, aromatic, compact, evergreen shrub with a cushion form. It has thin grey-green leaves and orange-yellow button-like flower heads arranged in dense corymbs at the end of the stems.

It is a drought-tolerant shrub native to the Mediterranean basin, specifically South-West Europe and Northern Morocco.


Quick Overview

TYPE

Type Shrub

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Helichrysum stoechas height and width

BLOOM TIME

Helichrysum stoechas bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-12ºC / 10º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 5 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Taxonomy

  • Botanical name: Helichrysum stoechas  (hel-ih-KRY-sum STO-kas
  • Family: Asteraceae (ass-ter-AY-see-eye)
  • Common name:  Curry Plant,  Common Shrubby Everlasting, Eternal Flower
NameMeaning
HelichrysumDerives from Greek words. Heli = Sun and chrysus= Gold, meaning golden sun. Refers to its round golden yellow flowers.
stoechasRefers to the French Islands called Stoechades, where this plant was first identified.

How to identify Helichrysum stoechas

Helichrysum stoechas shrub (Curry plant, Common Shrubby Everlasting, or Eternal Flower)

Shrub

Small, aromatic evergreen shrub with a compact cushion shape. It has thin grey-green leaves and orange-yellow flower heads on long stems rising above the foliage.

It has upright stems in the middle and slightly curving stems on the edges.

The shrub has an average height of 30 cm (1 ft),  and a width of 30 to 40 cm (1 to 1.3 ft).

Its fragrance is similar to curry, hence the common name curry plant.

This species varies widely in terms of habit, size of the stems and leaves, leaf shape and hairiness. This variation is probably influenced by various environmental factors.

Helichrysum stoechas stem (Curry plant, Common Shrubby Everlasting, or Eternal Flower)

Stem

The stems are more or less straight, i.e, they can vary from upright to decumbent (spreading with slightly curving ends). They are grey-green and very hairy.

The stem has alternate leaves, which are denser at the base and progressively less dense and smaller towards the inflorescence.

Helichrysum stoechas leaf (Curry plant, Common Shrubby Everlasting, or Eternal Flower)

Leaf

The leaf is aromatic (curry-scented), grey-green to whitish, and sessile (no stalk). The upper side is lightly-haired, and the underside is densely-haired.

The shape of the leaf is narrow linear, untoothed and with down-turned margins.

The size varies between 3 and 35 mm ( 0.11 and 1.37 in) long and 0.4 to 2 mm  (0.01 and 0.07  in) wide.

Helichrysum stoechas flower (Curry plant, Common Shrubby Everlasting, or Eternal Flower)

Flower

The inflorescence is a dense corymb around 30 mm (1.18 in) with several button-like flower heads enclosed in a spherical involucre. 

Each flower head has a diameter between 4 and 7 mm (0.15 and 0.27 in) and is composed of tiny orange-yellow flowers

The tiny flowers (disc florets) are tubular and have five petals fused at the base. They are held in a tight bundle enclosed by rows of overlapping papery white bracts. The flowers are a mix of female and hermaphrodite, with the stamens and pistil sticking out from inside the corolla.

Helichrysum stoechas Usage

Ornamental

In the garden

This shrub is very pretty with its compact cushion shape of grey-green leaves. During the summer, its flower stalks rise above the foliage carrying many orange-yellow button-like flowers that create a spectacular effect.

It can be used as a solitary plant or planted in groups. Can be planted in pots, beds or borders. In rock or gravel gardens.

It can also be used for seaside gardens because of its resistance to salty water sprays.

Flower arrangements

Helichrysum stoechas is also called everlasting because the colour of the bracts remains alive long after the stems are cut. Because of this, they are very popular in dry floral arrangements.

Medicinal

Helichrysum stoechas has been used in folk medicine to treat respiratory problems such as allergies, flu, and bronchitis and skin diseases such as eczema, herpes, acne, burns, and wounds.

Studies have demonstrated its antibacterial, antiproliferative, antioxidant, antidiabetic and neuroprotective properties.

Cosmetics

Due to its intense warm aroma, the essential oil of Helichrysum stoechas is used in the production of perfumes and cosmetics.

Culinary

Its unusual curry fragrance is very much appreciated in cooking meat, soups, rice and vegetable dishes.

Biodiversity

The flowers of this shrub are attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects, which then attract other wildlife such as birds, enhancing the biodiversity of your garden.

Revegetation

Due to its robustness and adaptation to harsh conditions, Helychrysum stoechas is used as a seed plant for revegetation of stony slopes, scree and coastal dunes.

Cultural

In antiquity, the flowers of the Helichrysum plants were used to make wreaths to crown idols.  Ancient Romans and Greeks decorated the statues of gods with wreaths if Helichrysum flowerheads.

Helichrysum stoechas habitat

This shrub grows in the typical Mediterranean landscape at altitudes up to 2000m (6500 ft).

It is seen in dry, rocky and sandy areas. Scrublands, thickets and forest clearings.

It also grows in coastal areas because of its tolerance to maritime exposure.

How to care for Helichrysum stoechas

Cold exposure

This shrub is cold hardy, tolerating frost and temperatures down to -12ºc (10ºF), as long as the soil is well drained.

However, until it is fully established, it will need winter protection.  Add some mulch to protect the roots from low temperatures and the foliage from the wet soil.

Sun exposure

Needs full sun (at least 6 hours per day) to maintain its best colour and compact shape. In the shade, it becomes more floppy as the stems lose their firmness when deprived of sunlight.

Soil

It likes hot, well-drained to dry, stony or sandy soils. It especially dislikes wet soil, which makes it more exposed to fungal diseases.

If prefers poor soils, if they’re fertile, the shrub tends to become leggy and has more difficulty tolerating drought and cold temperatures.

It grows well in most types of soils: mildly acidic, neutral and mildly alkaline.

Watering

Once established, the Curry Plant is drought tolerant and can go for a long time without water (about 5 months if the temperature is not too hot). 

Overwatering will probably kill it. In particular, the combination of heat and humidity can lead to fungal disease.

During the first two years after planting, you will need to water the young plant every two to three weeks during the summer.  Allow the soil to dry out between watering. In case of a heat wave, water more frequently. Monitor your plants closely and look out for any signs of stress.

To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the plant (but not too close to the base). Wood chips and gravel are good options for mulching. 

Other Conditions

Helichrysum stoechas can tolerate strong winds and maritime exposure, so it is adapted to coastal conditions.

The best season to plant is during Autumn, so it will have all winter to develop its roots. In very cold areas, it is best to plant during the spring as long as there is available water throughout the summer to survive while developing its roots.

How to prune Helichrysum stoechas

Pruning is essential to maintain the plant´s compact decorative shape and flowering.

Ideally, you should give it a hard prune in early spring, which is essential to maintain its compactness and avoid becoming too woody or splitting apart. Then a light prune in late summer after flowering to encourage bushiness. 

Be careful to always prune above the leaf, as the stems will not regrow if it is cut back too hard.

How to propagate Helichrysum stoechas

The curry plant can be propagated by seed sown in late winter and early spring.

It can also be propagated by softwood cuttings taken in early spring or by semi-hardwood cuttings taken in later spring and summer.

A good online source for plant propagation techniques can be found at RHS.

If you prefer books, I can recommend the following:

  • Creative propagation: a grower’s guide by Thompson, Peter,
  • RHS Propagating Plants: How to Create New Plants For Free by Alan Toogood, Royal Horticultural Society

Other Helichrysums you may also like

Sources

Sources of information used for this article

Internet

Article from Jardin Sec

Models for images from  https://www.florandalucia.es/index.php/helichrysum-stoechas

Vol XVI from FloraIberica

Books

Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Western Mediterranean, Second edition Paperback – 1 Oct. 2021 by Chris Thorogood