The vast variety of tropical plants available to gardeners allows them to pick and choose species with specific ornamental characteristics beyond flower color. Plants with wide leaf blades add coarse and bold texture to landscape designs, and provide foliage to use in floral arrangements. In general, tropical foliage plants need ample humidity and soil moisture to maintain theirleaves without dried or browned edges.
White Bird of Paradise
Striking with huge, waxy leaves on long juicy stem petioles, the white bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) indeed produces a flower of white and purple. Grown outdoors where no winter frosts occur, and as a large houseplant elsewhere, healthy plants produce leaves that are 5 to 6 feet long, and 18-inches wide.
Related to bird of paradise and sometimes misleadingly called the traveler's palm, traveler's tree (Ravenala madagascariensis) forms a one-planed fan of leaves that each approach 10- to 12-feet in length and 24-inches in width. Outdoors in frost-free landscapes these massive leaf blades tatter in the wind.
If you love fast-growing plants with large leaves, you cannot avoid discussing bananas. Called "trees", bananas lack any wood in their trunks and thus are merely large tropical herbs. Edible bananas (Musa spp.) range in their cold hardiness, so gardeners outside the tropics grow various varieties for summertime foliage accents that die-back to their roots and survive over the cold winter. The Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum) grows large, wide leaf blades, too, some reaching lengths of 20 feet and nearly 30 inches in width.
"Elephant ears" ambiguously comprises any tropical plant in the aroid family with large, singular leaf blades resembling the pachypod's ear lobes. Botanically, the widest leaves develop in the plant groups Alocasia and Xanthosoma. Giant taro (Alocasia macrorrhizos) blades are rounded but somewhat triangular, held on stiff stems. Each measures 2 to 5 feet long and about 3 feet in width. Other species producing grand leaves include Alocasia portei, Alocasia plumbea, Xanthosoma maffafa and Xanthosoma aurea.
Two species of philodendron forming large, ornate leaves are the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) and the selloum (Philodendron bipinnatifidum). Arrowhed philodendron (Philodendron speciosum) also creates large glossy leaves with widths greater than 12 inches.
Developing large, phallic-shaped flowers that smell of rotting flesh, voodoo lily or giant arum species produce large leaves. Many leaf blades display deep lobes and cuts, resembling leaf umbrellas with massive holes and tears. The 3- to 5-foot leaves appear in the growing season, not when the plant blooms.
Large, rounded leaves with lobes occur on trumpet trees (Cecropia spp.). Looking like multi-fingered hands, their diameter ranges between 18 and 24 inches. Leaf undersides remain silvery gray to white while upper surfaces are unassumingly green. These tall, fast-growing trees grow in truly tropical regions, often the first to re-vegetate the rainforest when it is cleared.