In the Garden

Enhance Your Landscape with Tropical Plants

Brighten your landscape with tropical plants, which naturally thrive in hot, humid, shady climates. Plant them in the ground or in containers in the landscape (not just on the patio). Most prefer shade, but some flourish in part-sun.

White or light-colored flowers, or white variegated foliage, brightens dark shady areas. Think of these larger tropical plants as annuals or tender perennials. A few will grow back after a mild winter, but most will not grow back. Large flowering tropical plants will proliferate into specimen plants or as a focal point for your landscape. There are many choices at the garden centers.

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Flowering Gold Star Esperanza

Flowering Tropical Plants

Gold Star Esperanza grows fast, flowers all summer, and is one of my favorites. Esperanza grows to four feet or taller, is covered with clusters of bright yellow trumpet-shaped flowers and grows in containers or the ground. Esperanza also has a variety with gold/orange flowers. Both my yellow and gold flowering Esperanza planted in the ground grows back from roots in the spring.

Other flowering tropical plants to plant for flowers include tropical hibiscus, Hibiscus rosa-Sinensis, with bright, colorful two- to four-inch flowers on a shrub-like plant with glossy foliage; and New Zealand flax, a grass-like plant with variegated green and white foliage.

I grow variegated pearl pepper with white/purple foliage and small black pearl-sized peppers; Firebush, Hamelia patens, with bright orange/red flowers that attract hummingbirds; and Plumbago, a low-growing tropical plant with blue bloom. White flowering Plumbagos are also available.

Bougainvillea plants have bright red, pink, white bracts, and flower all summer long. Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet) has pendant, trumpet-shaped, night-fragrant flowers six- to nine-inches long on a tall shrub-like plant, with white, orange, yellow, pink, or red flowers.

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Colorful Caladiums | Photo by Hartono Subagio

Tropical Plants with Bold Foliage:

  • Colocasia: Foliage tip hangs down; grows back from tubers.
  • Alocasia: Foliage tip grows up; grows back from tubers.
  • Caladiums: Colorful leaves; treat as summer annual.
  • Banana: Tall and bold; grows back from tubers.
  • Ginger: Many varieties; grows back from tubers.

Winter-hardy Plants with a Tropical Look:

  • Fatsia japonica: Large, bold, glossy palmate leaves; evergreen.
  • Aspidistra: Tall, narrow leaves, with variegated varieties available; evergreen.
  • Holly Fern: Bold fern with holly-like leaves; evergreen.
  • Cana: Flowers with bold green or red foliage; grows back from tubers.

Every fall, I receive emails and calls about keeping tropical plants over the winter. I move my collection of sago palms and plumeria in and out of my greenhouse every fall and spring. These are large, valuable, difficult-to-replace plants. The tropical plants I am recommending are easily and inexpensively replaced as annuals, and some will grow back from their roots in the spring.

Happy gardening!


Dotty Woodson

Dotty Woodson has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Horticulture from Tarleton State University and a doctoral degree from Texas A&M and Texas Tech Universities for Agricultural Education, Communication, and Leadership. Woodson taught horticulture, irrigation, rainwater harvesting, and landscape water conservation by design, plant selection, and efficient irrigation efficiency for 35 years.

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