I have always been intrigued by tropical flowers since I was a child and would visit my grandparents in Florida. The plants were so different there and I enjoyed the exotic flowers with their bright, cheerful colors. You can bring the tropics to your garden by adding these colorful plants to containers or garden beds. They can be one-season wonders or grow them in a container and bring them indoors. You can also dig up the tubers and store them away for the winter.
Here are 7 of our favorite tropical plants to consider adding to your garden:
Abutilon is an exotic plant related to the Hibiscus. The plant is also called a flowering maple because their leaves look like ones on a maple tree. Many people know them as houseplants as they were once used to decorate chilly Victorian front rooms. The flowers on this plant bloom in summer and fall and come in a variety of colors such as pink, red, orange, yellow, and bi-color. Their pendant bell-shaped flowers are appealing to butterflies and hummingbirds. Try growing this plant in a container or hanging basket. They are hardy for zones 8 – 10. If you live in a cooler zone, treat this as annual or grow it in a container and bring it indoors for the winter. The plant can get full sun all day or a mix of sun and shade. They do not do well in full shade.
Bromeliad is an exotic houseplant related to the pineapple. You may think they are high maintenance but they are not difficult to grow. They require bright light but not direct sunlight. This environment mirrors the tropical home where they thrive as they grew under the canopy of other plants. The plant should be allowed to dry out between watering and not sit in standing water or soggy soil. They don’t need to be fertilized and can stay in the same pot for up to 5 years. Although they are a tropical plant they can survive temperatures as low as 40 degrees. For more details on Bromeliads, check out our blog post on them.
Brugmansia is an exotic tropical tree known for its huge trumpet-shaped flowers and large leaves. The flower is similar to a lily but hangs down. The native South American plant also goes by the name Angel’s Trumpet. In their native environment, it is used to warm days and cool nights. In the right tropical outdoor conditions, the tree can grow up to 30 feet tall. It will adapt well to being grown in a container. The individual blooms of the flowers can grow 4 – 24 inches long depending on the species. The flowers come in many colors including gold, peach, pink, white, and yellow. The fragrance of the flower only occurs in the evening. Please note that all parts of the plant are toxic to humans and animals. For best performance, plant in moist, rich, well-drained soil in full sun to part or light shade. Hardiness zones 7 to 11.
Cannas with their colorful flowers and banana-like foliage certainly make you feel like you are in the tropics. The flowers come in colors like orange, red, bright pink, and bi-colors. The foliage is really attractive and ranges in colors from solid green to near black as well as variegated. There are dwarf varieties that grow 2 feet and other varieties that grow up to 6 feet tall. They will typically bloom summer to fall. If you live in USDA growing zones 8 – 10, Cannas are considered perennials, but in the rest of the country, they are treated as an annual flower. The plant is very sensitive to cold; a frost will kill the foliage above ground and a cold snap could kill the plant. Since they are sensitive to cold you need to plant them after the last frost and dig up the tubers and store them for the winter. For more information on growing Cannas check out our Guide.
Colocasia or Elephant Ears are a tuber-based plant with a very tropical look. They can grow up to 6 feet tall with some varieties topping 8 feet or more. They can add a dramatic look to the garden. The plant has massive leaves that are in the shape of an elephant’s ear and can grow up to 2 feet wide and 3 feet long. These plants tolerant a wide range of conditions — sun or shade and a well-drained site, but they especially love damp, aquatic environments. Use them in containers with mixed plantings, where they are a thriller or as an accent plant in the garden. Colocasia are grown for their striking foliage which can range in color from green to purple and even black. There are new varieties that have a solid leaf color with different colored veins. The plant is similar to other frost-sensitive plants like cannas, dahlias, and gladiolus. Plant them in the spring when you know frost will no longer be a concern. If you live in a cooler climate you will have to dig up this tuber to store for the winter. Hardiness zones are 7 – 11.
Like many of these other tropical plants, the Hibiscus will add drama to any garden. The flowers are large trumpet-shaped and can grow 3 to 8 inches in diameter. They are known for their extended stamens. The flowers only last one day but the plant is constantly blooming. Some of these plants grow up to 15 inches. The plant also has medicinal purposes and the flowers and leaves can be used for tea. Hibiscus flowers come in many colors including lavender, orange, red, yellow, white, or bi-colored. The plant has dark green leaves. There are also some varieties that have double flowers. Tropical hibiscus needs moist but well-drained soil and full sun. Like other tropical plants if you live in a colder location consider growing this plant in a container and bring it indoors for the winter. Hardiness zones 9 – 11.
Mandevilla plants are tropical flowering vines that are also called rocktrumpet or Dipladenia. The flowers bloom in pink, red, and white and the plant grows lush green leaves. These vines can grow 10 – 15 feet long. The plant will quickly grow and twine around arbors, trellises, and other structures. They add great vertical interest to any garden. If you live in a cooler climate, grow them in containers so you can bring them indoors in the fall. When grown indoors the plant likes bright light, which can be either direct or indirect sunlight. These plants perform best in locations where they can get full sun for at least 6 hours a day. In the heat of the summer, it prefers some afternoon shade. They like well-drained soil and if you grow it in a container use a potting soil mix. You can prune the plant anytime; especially if it is growing too large. Mandevilla vines are hardy for zones 9 and above.
Let us know if you have any of these tropical plants in your garden!