Tropical gardens are becoming increasingly popular, with gorgeous, architectural foliage that can transport you to your own part of paradise, no travel needed. Step outside your back door, and crane your head upward to see the sun’s rays poking through the glossy, huge leaves, past fantastic colors and unusual shapes. Let your garden transport you from the hum-drum of everyday worries to a heavily-perfumed heaven.
Tropical flowers come in kaleidoscopes of color, shapes and sizes. They can make you do a double-take with their unusual appearance, and you don’t need to mimic a rainforest to keep them happy, some do better when you mimic their natural habitat, and some will grow just about anywhere with no fuss.
We’ve put together this guide to help you choose your own tropical paradise full of exotic flowering plants, which hail from a variety of places, from the Equator, Hawaii, Africa, Asia and Australia.
The blood flower, or asclepias curassavica hails from South America, and belongs to the dogbane family Apocynaceae. This is an evergreen perennial, which grows as a shrub up to three feet tall, and you get the added bonus of bright reddish-orange or yellow flowers which bloom from June through until October.
The blood flower also attracts a number of pollinators, from hummingbirds, bees and Monarch butterflies in particular. This plant is fairly easy to grow from seed, and if you’re so inclined, you can fill your home with cut flowers. Be careful not to plant this near livestock, as it is poisonous. Take care not to damage the stems or leaves, as the plant produces a milky sap which can cause eye injury.
Brugmansia X Candida
Brugmansia X Candida, or yellow angel’s trumpet, is an unmistakable showstopper of a plant. Known for its trumpet-shaped flowers that come in many colors, they open when the sun is just about to set. Mature angel’s trumpet plants are evergreen shrubs, which grow between five and six feet high. They rebloom within cycles of four to six weeks, so you won’t have to wait very long. It requires a lot of sun and regular feeding to produce all these lovely flowers! You can grow it in pretty much any soil type, and while it likes a moist soil, it hates being water-logged. If you live somewhere with cold winters, keep your brugmansia in a pot or move it to a pot somewhere frost-free and dark, allowing the plant to go dormant.
Not to be confused with ‘Channa striata’ which is a type of snakehead fish, the canna plant boasts both huge foliage and gorgeous flowers. While it is classed as a perennial, cannas need winter protection. The best way to ensure the plant’s survival over winter is to dig it up, put it into just-moist potting mix or leaf mold somewhere frost can’t get to. Once the risk of frost has gone, plant them out in summer. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warmer, they’ll do fine in the ground.
Cannas are best for when you’ve got a big empty space that needs filling both across the ground and upward. They spread anywhere from two to four feet, and grow to heights between four and six feet, adding some lovely height, color, and shade to your garden. Ideally, they need to be somewhere sheltered with full sun and soil full of goodness.
Cannas are very low maintenance, though if you deadhead dying flowers, they’ll reward you with flowers in abundance from July to September.
Grown both for their gargantuan ornamental leaves and their edible tubers as a staple food, this plant has many names, Elephant’s Ear, Taro and Aivi. Colocasia Esculenta is an evergreen form of taro, but if you prefer a deciduous plant (one that drops its leaves in winter) other types feature that, too.
While they are grown to be edible plants, it’s worth noting that all parts of the plant are poisonous if you eat them without cooking them. Always wear gloves when handling taro, as it can be a skin irritant.
Like the canna, if you fancy growing taro somewhere where you get frosts, you’ll need to dig the plant up and store the tubers inside in order for the plant to survive winter.
This gorgeous plant also flowers beautifully in July and August, with the blooms coming in many colors.
Cuphea ‘David Verity’
Also referred to as a cigar plant or large firecracker, this unusual plant attracts hummingbirds galore, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that has hummingbirds. It loves lots of sun and lots of heat, and provided with these conditions, will flower from spring or early summer all the way to autumn.
They’re known for their long orange blooms which sprout from upright stems, and planted next to blue or purple blooms, these can be a real showstopper. They grow as a circular bush to around two feet tall, and spread about the same. You can also bring them indoors to overwinter them. If you want a similar tropical paradise indoors, they also can be quite happy as a houseplant.
Literally translated as “smoke tree leaf”, this lovely red euphorbia can be grown either as a tree (reaching thirty feet tall) or a shrub (ten to fifteen feet tall). It’s worth noting that as part of the Euphorbiaceae family, this plant has poisonous sap. Historically, it’s been used both as a poison and a folk remedy, and can cause irritation if it comes into contact with the skin.
With the safety warning label out of the way, this is a lovely plant which does well both in the ground and in containers. It doesn’t like wind, salt or frost, as it hails from Mexico and South America. It has lovely copper colored leaves, and creamy-hued flowers which bloom in late summer.
You may not have heard of the Latin name, but I bet you’re familiar with the sweet potato. As well as producing the orange tuber, Ipomoea Batatas has white and purple blooms. It’s also part of the Convolvulaceae family, which is also known as Morning Glory. Native to Mexico, you can recognize it by its climbing vine and heart-shaped leaves. Like all morning glory flowers, these open in the morning and rarely last until the end of the day.
It grows to a maximum height of twelve inches, and spreads to ten feet. It doesn’t abide frost, and prefers full sun for as long as it can get it. It’s worth researching the type of sweet potato you want, as they either produce good crops or good flowers.
Manihot Esculenta ‘Variegata’
Another member of the Euphorbiaceae family, the Manihot esculenta hails from Brazil. Like the sweet potato plant, it’s also grown for its edible tubers, though the roots must be removed as they contain hydrocyanic acid, which is poisonous.
The variegata type is grown for its two-tone leaves, which are yellow with green edges. The yellow turns to white as the plant gets older. In warmer climates, this gorgeous foliage is evergreen. If you grow it in colder conditions, they will die down with the first frost, and will sprout again in spring. Throughout the year, this plant produces beautiful greenish tinged white flowers, and prefers full sun and sandy soil. It likes humidity, and can grow up to ten foot high.
If you have plenty of space to fill in your garden and want a plant that will turn many heads, the Musa basjoo is a good choice. It’s a perennial, and the common name is hardy banana. Yes, it’s a banana plant. Unfortunately, the fruits aren’t edible. It was originally thought to be native to Japan, but it comes from China. While it grows to the size of a small tree, with gorgeous exotic leaves to inject some paradise into your garden, in colder climates the foliage dies back and pretty much disappears. This can come as a shock, especially if you’ve gotten used to the architectural value it provides, but it will come back in spring. It’s a fast growing plant, so you won’t have to wait long for its full glory to re-emerge when it pops back up. It produces clusters of cream flowers which eventually turn to ornamental fruits, which can grow up to six cm long. It needs a sheltered spot with full sun, and well-draining soil.
If you’re after a low maintenance plant which injects upright flashes of color into your garden, you can’t go wrong with salvia. This particular salvia is a perennial which is usually grown as an annual, known as scarlet sage or the bonfire flower, which grows to about half a meter tall. It prefers full sun, and doesn’t mind if it’s in an exposed position or somewhere more sheltered. You’ll be treated to a gorgeous display of red from June up until the first frost. They grow happily in the ground or in containers, and attract a variety of pollinators.
Known more commonly as the flamingo lily, this lovely tropical plant needs warm, humid conditions, so it’s best grown indoors, continuing that tropical paradise inside. It hails from Colombia, Ecuador, the Venezuelan Antilles and the Windward Islands. The flowers come in quite a few colors, the most popular being white and red. The blooms emerge from yellow spikes, peeking up through the heart-shaped leaves.
If you give this plant its preferred environment, it will flower all year round. Keep in mind that Anthurium does produce a skin irritating sap, and under no circumstances should you eat any part of the plant. Flamingo lilies also act as air purifiers, and filter out nasty chemicals such as formaldehyde, ammonia and toluene from the air.
Bird of Paradise
Orange strelitzia, or the bird of paradise, is a relative of the banana plant and boasts similar gorgeous foliage, which, if grown in the right conditions, can get very, very large at two meters tall. If that wasn’t enough, this plant has the most unusual, electric blue and orange flowers that look like the head of an exotic bird, or if you squint, a bird in flight. It’s native to South Africa, and birds pollinate this plant, so the leaf stems are pretty sturdy to accommodate several birds at a time.
They grow happily indoors or out, but if you do plant them outside they need to be brought back in for the winter. To bloom, these plants require humidity and regular feeds, and this is after reaching maturity, which can take three to five years. You can sort of speed this up by dividing mature plants at the base.
Cordyline fruticosa, the cabbage tree comes from Hawaii, Eastern Australia and Eastern Asia. It’s an evergreen, so it’ll provide your garden with structure during the winter with its broad leaves. Native varieties grow as shrubs which can get as tall as fifteen feet high, spreading from three to eight feet, so it requires some space! More modern varieties are best suited for indoor displays.
The rhizomes of cordyline fruticosa are edible, and in Hawaii, the leaves are used for hula skirts. Leaves emerge as pink, which turn to red and then eventually a deep, true green. The flowers appear in white or light lavender, and feature a lovely scent.
There are many kinds of ficus plants, and quite a few of them are sold as houseplants, where they’ll grow happily in partial or full shade. Depending on the variety, the leaves can be burnt by full sun, so be mindful of where you want to put this plant.
As part of the Moraceae family, ficus encompasses many types of plants, including woody trees, shrubs and vines, all with gorgeous, glossy leaves.
The weeping fig hails from India and Northern Australia, and in its natural rain forest habitat, can grow up to fifty feet tall! They boast gorgeous white flowers, which need a certain type of wasp to pollinate them, in order to produce figs. They prefer low maintenance – so pop them in full sun or part shade, and let them do their thing.
A popular type suitable for indoors is ficus elastica robusta – the rubber tree plant, which does resemble the original species, but boasts wider leaves. It’s one of the best air-filtering plants to have inside, and will tolerate some abuse. It’s unlikely to flower, but it’s a great ornamental plant. It can grow to two meters tall, but you can prune it to the desired height. To read up about growing this type outside, keep reading, as there’s a dedicated section further down.
You can also grow the weeping fig indoors, if you fancy some nice foliage to brighten up a light corner. It has the added benefit of being able to filter some nasty pollutants out of your home, such as formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene. Keep in mind that it is toxic to pets.
Is a tropical garden or oasis complete without at least one palm tree? No! There’s nothing quite like the foliage of a palm tree, and the sun peeking through. Palm trees are perennial, and while some are hardier than others, if you live in a place with a cold winter, they benefit from some protection, whether that’s bringing the entire plant inside, or wrapping it in horticultural fleece.
Originally from tropical regions, palm trees have made a name for themselves pretty much everywhere, and were prized by the Victorians for their tropical aesthetic. The most commonly seen types are the coconut and the date palm tree. Some grow as shrubs, while others climb to dizzying heights. Depending on the type, they may be able to stand strong winds, or they may get what’s known as wind burn, where the leaves become damaged.
Traditional palm trees grow straight up with no branches until they reach a decent height. The bark can be smooth, or it could be armored.
This plant bears the unfortunate common name of dumbcane. It originates from Brazil, and it’s worth noting that this plant is poisonous in all of its parts, so if you have children, pets, or people who are otherwise inclined to try and eat this plant, don’t get it. In its native habitat, it grows in partial to full shade, and reaches up to ten feet tall.
Dumbcane is prized as a houseplant for its attractive variegated foliage, which can produce white flowers, and then berries. Wherever you put this plant, make sure it has low light in order for it to thrive.
In a study conducted by NASA, peace lilies, or spathiphyllum, have been proved to purify air when grown as a houseplant, removing formaldehyde and benzene from the home environment. They prefer places with low light and high humidity, so a peace lily is perfect for a bathroom or kitchen, and the humidity helps to produce more flowers. They’re perennials, so they’ll come back year after year, and while you can buy them in a range of sizes, they can grow up to six foot tall in the right conditions, spreading out up to five feet. Leaves are bright to dark green and appear glossy, and the unusual white flowers which develop from the leaves add a tropical element to any room. They’re known to be a dramatic plant – when they want water, the leaves will droop and appear dead. Give the plant a good soak, and within half an hour, the plant will be upright again.
Prized for its gorgeous variegated leaves, this plant can come in many colors with different splashes of color. It’s also known as Joseph’s coat. The leaf patterns can also widely vary, in stripes, spots, veins, or speckles of different colors. Probably the most interesting feature of this plant is that it can have a completely different appearance from the bottom to the top of the plant, making it hard to identify the cultivar. They’re native to Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia.
It’s most commonly grown as a houseplant, and its biggest need is good, bright light. Avoid a spot with midday sun, as this can scorch the leaves. Crotons are also picky when it comes to being watered. They hate drying out, and they hate being waterlogged. They need slightly moist soil in order to thrive, and scale it back in winter. They quite like a bit of humidity, if you can provide it.
If you live somewhere warm, you can plant them outside in spring, preferably mid to late spring to avoid shocking the plant. Don’t forget to bring it back indoors when it starts to get colder! As you might have guessed, they’re plants that require a more careful eye than some plants on this list, but the leaves will tell you if the plant’s unhappy, if they start to brown or fade, the place you’ve put your croton isn’t suitable.
Aloe Vera is probably the most well-known succulent plant. It’s a perennial, so it won’t die off after a year, provided it’s looked after properly. Native to the Mediterranean, this plant has been used all over the world for the healing and cooling properties of the sap it produces. It’s often an ingredient in cosmetics and topical salves, as it has a beneficial effect on burns and dry skin.
Aloe prefers a droughty garden, which has the benefit of as much sunshine as it can get. It requires well-draining soil which is poor and rocky. If you’re growing aloe vera as a houseplant, use a succulent or cacti compost, and grit the surface of the soil. Give it sun and sandy or rocky soil, and it will be very happy, and won’t require much care. Aloes can grow up to two feet tall, and can spread up to twelve inches wide. Mature aloe veras produce yellow or red flowers on the top of towering stalks to get as much sun as possible.
The rubber tree plant, as mentioned further up this article, is a member of the Moraceae family, and hails from Southeastern Asia. In their native habitat, they can grow up to a hundred feet tall, with beautiful large glossy green leaves. While it’s been a popular houseplant since Victorian times, it’s possible to grow it outside, if it’s very sheltered. If the temperature drops to 35 degrees or lower, it can damage the plant. A rubber tree is much easier to grow in a container, so before the temperature dips, you can move it to safety with little trouble. It thrives in temperatures of 65 – 80 degrees, making it a good plant to have on a patio. It prefers moist but well-draining soil, to prevent root rot. Generally, it’s known to be a less fussy plant, so as long as you keep these pointers in mind, it should do well.
The snake plant. Recently rechristened as dracaena trifasciata, this plant also carries the unfortunate name of mother-in-law’s tongue, and I’d hate to know that mother-in-law, really. This is a tough plant which is long-lived, and the plants grow vertically, up to two meters tall. They also flower, but this is rare if the plant is kept indoors.
Snake plants don’t mind bright or low light, as long as you keep them out of direct sunlight. Like all succulents, they prefer really poor soil which drains really well, so a cacti or succulent compost is best. They need water sparingly, so if you come back from a long vacation, they usually thrive from neglect. It’s quite difficult to kill a snake plant, but the most common way is overwatering it.
You can grow these outside as long as there are warm temperatures in a somewhat shady space. Keep an eye out on the weather though, as you’ll need to bring them in at the first sign of the temperature dropping under 55 degrees.
Philodendrons are prized as houseplants for their lovely trailing foliage. Philodendron hederaceum hails from Mexico, Central and South America, and some parts of the Caribbean.
In their native habitat, they can grow to twenty feet tall, spreading up to six feet wide. As houseplants, they can reach up to four feet, which is a nice, house-friendly size! They prefer regular watering and bright, indirect light, although it has been reported that philodendrons can survive in water alone. If you want to try this out for yourself, take a small philodendron cutting and see if it takes, rather than sacrificing a whole philodendron to your cause!
You can recognize a philodendron by their lush, usually heart-shaped leaves, and their new leaves which are yellow or brown. They will need continual support as they grow, and mature plants can produce white flowers which have a green tinge.
A member of the Araliaceae family, this plant is also known as the umbrella plant. It’s native to Taiwan and Hainan, and in optimum conditions, it can grow up to twenty-five feet tall. It’s happy in partial shade or full sun, and provides lovely glossy foliage year round.
They’re often grown as potted plants, hedges, and dwarf trees, and you don’t have to worry about bringing them inside before winter as they can tolerate winter conditions. They celebrate the summer months with tiny red flowers.
Native to the Philippines, the Chinese evergreen or aglaonema commutatum resembles the dumb cane in appearance, and belongs to the Aracea family. It will be fine in a shady spot, and can be grown outside as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 60 degrees, in which case it will need to be indoors, and can be moved back outside once the temperature warms up again. You can recognize the Chinese evergreen by its variegated leaves, which are dark green and splotched with gray and white.
When grown as a houseplant, it doesn’t produce flowers. Outdoors, several varieties of the Chinese evergreen sprout ivory blossom on a spadix similar to the Peace Lily flower.
Monsteras were popular in the 1980s, and are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. While it’s a popular indoor plant because of its unusually notched leaves which make for a fascinating silhouette, it can also be grown outside. In either case, they will need some support to grow up against.
In its native habitat, it wraps around the trunks of trees with its aerial roots, and the leaves can reach up to three feet. The plant itself can stretch to seventy feet tall, and wants partial shade for the best growth.
Apart from making sure the plant is well-supported, Monsteras do best with minimal care and weekly watering.
If you really want a showstopper, the one that will literally stop people in their tracks, the white bat flower is for you. It looks pretty unassuming until it flowers, and that’s where the fun begins. You’ll be treated to a show of purple flowers, and underneath, long whisker-like bracts trail, and those alone can grow up to a foot. Above these flowers, two additional bracts grow, which resemble petals or bat wings. It’s native to tropical and subtropical Asia, so it’s best grown as a houseplant, or in a container which is easy to put inside. It’s thought that the stamens may act as an insect trap, and might attract certain flies as pollinators, as some tropical plants do. Once the plant has been pollinated, the developing fruits rest on the ground.
The bat flower comes both in black and white, and they can bloom up to eight times in the summer. They prefer similar conditions to orchids, where they like high humidity and moderate light, as they grow among leaf litter at the bottom of rainforests. They need rich soil which drains well, and the plant is picky about watering. It likes to be moist, but not wet.
You can grow a bat flower outside, as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing, and it’s kept away from the wind, as wind will burn the plant.
Another unusual flower, the butterfly orchid is true to its name. You’ll find it naturally growing in South America and Trinidad, in the rainforest. It’s true to a typical orchid which grow on other plants.
Butterfly orchids have delicate roots that need moisture, but they need to be able to nearly dry out between watering.
Like some orchids, the psychopsis papilio forms a flower which tricks insects into pollinating them. It’s a process called pseudocopulation, where male insects attempt to mate with what they think are the females – but it’s actually the orchid flower.
They grow well indoors, in bright indirect light, and need compost designed for orchids. You can also plant them in sphagnum moss, but they need fresh air to get to the roots. As with all orchids, the butterfly orchid is picky about the water you give it. Make sure there’s no salt in it, use distilled water where you can, to prevent burning the roots.
The African Violet is a beautiful blue-flowering tropical perennial, which hails from Tanzania. Because of this, it either needs to be grown in a greenhouse, indoors, or somewhere where the temperature doesn’t drop below 60 degrees. To ensure flowers all year round, they need indirect sun and dry air.
These plants are fairly small compared to some on this list, with dark green leaves which are covered in tiny hairs. They grow to a maximum height of nine inches tall.
They also come in other colors, such as white, pink, and purple, and depending on the type, can feature double or semi-double petals.
If you want a real pop of color in your garden, Gaillardia are a lovely choice. They’re native to North and South America, but if you live in a colder climate, you can grow them as an annual for summer flowers between June to September. The flowers are usually a combination of yellow, red, and orange, bringing a lovely positivity to your garden.
They can grow up to three feet tall, and require full sun. Dry soil is best, and if you’ve got a packed flower bed that’s got lots of competition for water and nutrients, even better.
Native to Central and South America, Amaryllis are often bought as gifts as they’re widely admired for their huge blooms of red or red and white flowers. They grow from bulbs, and can reach two feet tall, and combining the massive flowers with the plant’s height, amaryllis is definitely a tropical paradise plant.
They grow well as houseplants, and can be planted outside during summer months, as long as you remember to bring them in before the temperature plummets.
Native to Northern South America and Central America, caladiums are recognizable for their large, heart-shaped leaves. As the name suggests, this particular type features two colors on each leaf, which can be green with red, pink, or white blotches. They can reach up to two feet tall, and are happy as a houseplant or in a border.
They rarely flower, but the foliage is a beautiful display in itself that adds beauty wherever it lives.
Also known as the spider plant, this is one of the most easygoing plants, where even the most novice-plant owner can have some success. They can be grown inside or outside, but they’re more common as houseplants, with white and green leaves or bright green. They often produce tiny star-shaped white flowers, and grow new plantlets on the ends of leaves. When the plantlets come into contact with the soil, they form new plants.
The spineless Yucca is also a popular houseplant. It can be grown outside, and features evergreen leaves. Originally from Mexico, they can grow up to thirty feet tall. While they’ll be very happy in full sun, yuccas can also survive in partial shade. They can form white flowers during spring, through summer, though they don’t flower at all if they’re in containers.
Known for its unusual foliage, this is a coniferous evergreen tree, normally found on Norfolk Island, near Australia.
The Norfolk Island pine doesn’t flower, but it produces both male and female seed cones, and can grow up to two hundred feet in its natural habitat. It’s a tree suited to partial shade, and unlike some conifers, resists strong winds.
You can grow the Norfolk Island pine both outside and inside, though they grow slowly in containers, and reach about three to six feet tall.
Begonias are becoming more popular. It’s not hard to see why. While they originated in the tropics, and can grow up to twelve feet tall there, they bloom well in various places from early summer until the frost sets in. They can be grown in the garden, in containers, or in hanging baskets. They come in a multitude of colors, and are easy to divide into new plants.
Known as the rose grape, the Medinilla magnifica comes from the Philippines. It prefers a shady spot, and likes to grow on tree trunks or in the ground.
It can grow up to four feet tall, and grows sprays of coral, red, or pink blooms.
Native to Bolivia, it’s not hard to see where the name powder puff tree comes from. The flowers are globular, and have striking scarlet stamens. They do best in pots, and can reach up to six feet tall. If you’re after a really striking flower, this plant is a great option.
Referred to as the ZZ plant, this is a good houseplant option. It’s native to Eastern Africa’s woodlands and grasslands, and is part of the Araceae family. It’s not particularly fussy about how much care you give it, but it prefers a shady location. Sometimes, it will even produce tiny ivory flowers on spikes.
Also known as the jade plant, this plant hails from South Africa, and does well with partial shade. If conditions are right, you may find it producing white or pink flowers.
This is a good houseplant option, but it needs bright light to thrive. Stems resemble tree trunks, and support plump and glossy leaves.
Devil’s ivy is a very popular plant, and can be grown in a wide variety of places. It’s worth noting that this plant is poisonous, so keep it out of reach of pets and children.
Leaves can be variegated, with shades of white, green and yellow. While it can flower, it’s rare that it does bloom, because of a lack of the hormone gibberellin.