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Top 8 Must-Have Tropical Plants

Top 8 Must-Have Tropical Plants

Looking for a bit of drama in your garden? You really can’t go wrong by adding  tropical plants! Their jumbo leaves, high voltage color, and amazing textures add height and interest while grounding and providing “heft” to garden spaces.

These plants are from parts of the world where the climate is frost-free, warm, and typically, though not always, moist (South and Central America, parts of Asia, and parts of Africa, for example). That means you can enjoy them outdoors when it's warm and then dig up the bulbs or bring containers inside for the winter when temperatures drop. Or, treat them as annuals  — compost them and start fresh in the spring.


Top 8 Tropicals for Every Garden

Each of these plants grows equally well in the ground or in containers, provided they're not sitting in completely boggy soils. Whether you live in a subtropical zone or garden where the snow flies each winter, you'll love these plants for the exotic touch they add to your landscape. 


Plumeria: (Plumeria)

A heavenly scented patio tree with vividly colored blooms, Plumeria will satisfy nearly all of your tropical urges. Plus your friends will be seriously impressed when they see yours blooming. (Don't tell them that plumeria plants are super easy to grow!)

Plumeria are the quintessential tropical flowers used frequently in Hawaiian leis. We grow them as small patio trees, 15-18” tall. The scent of the flowers is deliciously potent without being overpowering, and makes them perfect for container plantings near patio seating.

Grow plumeria year round in full sun in Hardiness Zones 10-11. Bring indoors for the winter everywhere else.

Unlike some tropical plants, plumeria plants are incredibly drought-tolerant. 


Passion Flower: (Passiflora)

One of the most stunning and dramatic of the tropical flowering vines, passion vine grows from 8-30’ long with flowers that are nearly indescribable in their beauty. Train up a trellis in a container or allow to scramble over a mailbox or porch railing. For a unique and wild look, allow passion flowers to scramble up and through your perennial gardens.

Intricate layers of highly textured petals, filaments, stamens and anthers come in shades of white, purple, lavender, blue, pink, and red. Year-round cold hardiness in zones 8-11. Enjoy as a summer accent everywhere else.


Jasmine: (Jasminum)

Jasmine is the stuff of legends in literature, but we think it flies seriously under the radar as a garden plant. Small, waxy white flowers bloom from spring into summer, some even into the fall, on vines that grow up to 30’ long.

In warmer climates, jasmine will be an evergreen delight, in cooler areas, consider it a fragrant houseplant during the winter. Jasmine grows best in full sun to partial shade and likes consistently moist soils. Make a statement by planting jasmine in high traffic areas (such as near the front door or in a pot on your outdoor patio or deck) so you can enjoy the scent while flowers are in bloom.


Caladium: (Caladium)

How about foliage plants that look hand-painted? Although caladiums do bloom, you'll want to grow them for their over-the-top leaves in shades of red, pink, white, and green. They're one of the few plants that delivers true summerlong color in the shade — because the color is not dependent on the flowers. 

The leaf shapes range from arrowhead- to heart- or lanced-shaped, with the overall size of the plant growing up to 25” with leaves up to 18” long. Most caladiums enjoy partial shade to dappled shade conditions. Their cold hardiness zones are 10-11, but gardeners everywhere enjoy growing caladiums during the summer. 


Ginger: (Curcuma)

These tropical beauties grow anywhere from 2-5 feet tall and up to six feet wide. Ornamental gingers instantly evoke the tropics but will bloom during the summer everywhere. Plants feature oversized elongated leaves and intricate flowers in a variety of colors.

Most prefer dappled sun to light shade in hardiness zones 8-11 and like soil on the somewhat moist, but not soggy, side. 


Elephant Ears: (Alocacia and Colocasia)

Elephant Ears

Nothing quite surpasses the impressive size of elephant ears, the giants of the tropical garden. With heart-shaped leaves that can measure up to several feet across, elephant ears make a statement and provide a stunning focal point for your tropical garden.

These bulbs can grow anywhere from 3’ – 8’ tall and wide, and while most are predictably tender, some are actually fairly cold tolerant.

Go for Hilo Beauty for tri-color leaves with white accents or  Esculenta Mojito with speckled leaves.  You don't have to have a huge garden to enjoy their huge tropical flair. Some types have smaller leaves. 

Check the hardiness zone on the variety you purchase. Bulbs are easy to dig up and overwinter indoors everywhere, though.


Calla Lily: (Calla)

Calla lilies feature those wide leaves like most tropicals, but also boast their trademark spiral bloom form beloved in cut flower arrangements.

Both elegant and dramatic, callas come in hues ranging from reds, yellows, and oranges, to classic white, purple, and pink.

Some have speckled leaves that are great additions to the garden even when plants are not in bloom. Plants are cold hardy in zones 8-10 and make great container annuals everywhere else.


Crocosmia: (Crocosmia)

Ok, so crocosmia aren't technically tropical plants, but they look so tropical that we're including them in this roundup.

Crocosmia have exotic looking, tubular-shaped flowers in hot and spicy shades of red, yellow, orange, and hot pink — exactly what you need to add some heat to your garden!

Added bonuses? They’re great as cut flowers and they attract hummingbirds and butterflies. These mid-summer to fall bloomers grow from 24-36” tall in full sun to part shade in hardiness zones 6-10. 


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  • Katie Elzer-Peters
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