Plants for Tropical Agriculture

The tropical areas of the world benefit from year-round warm temperatures and the intense equatorial sun that does not reach northern and southern latitudes. This provides the perfect climate for fast-growing fruit producing plants. Many of these plants are an important part of the local agriculture in tropical regions. The constantly high demand on the world market for fresh tropical fruit has led to a vibrant export and farming agriculture market in many tropical developing countries.


The papaya tree is not really a tree. It is actually an herb, which means it does not have a woody stem. Instead it has a long, hollow stem up to 30 feet tall that supports a mass of 1- to 2-foot-wide, deeply lobed leaves at the top of the tree. The fruit is oval-shaped, up to 20 inches long, and grows on the trunk of the tree. It is native to Central America and Mexico and was spread all over the tropics such as the Caribbean, the Philippines, India and even as far north as the Mediterranean by Spanish explorers in the early 16th and 17th centuries where it became an important agricultural food crop for locals. Today, many papayas are still grown in the tropics for food, but the supply cannot meet the worldwide demand. It will grow where it gets full sun, humidity, ample water and never receives a winter freeze.


Vanilla is the only orchid grown commercially for the non-ornamental flower trade. Vanilla plants are long herbaceous vines that grow up the trunks of trees and take root along the vine at each node. The tree canopy provides the dappled shade the plants like. The flowers are pale yellow to white and open only for one day. Most agricultural production of vanilla is done on small family farms in tropical areas such as Tahiti, Fiji and Hawaii in humid areas. They need to be hand-pollinated to produce vanilla beans so it is a very labor-intensive crop. After the flower is pollinated, the seed capsule matures, which we call a vanilla bean. It is then harvested, dried, fermented and then cured for several months before it is usable in flavoring.


Bananas are the fourth largest agricultural fruit crop in the world. They are grown in all tropical areas around the world such as Mexico, Hawaii and southeast Asia and are considered pan-tropical. There are many different types of banana than the yellow "Cavendish" at the grocery store. Some like the 4- to 5-inch-long "Lady Finger" are very sweet and some are better used in cooking such as the commonly seen plantains. They are all varieties of herbs that grow on tall stems up to 25 or 30 feet depending on the type. they have long green fronds that number as few as four or five up to 15 at the top of the stem. Bananas produce suckers at the base of the trunk that eventually form bushes. As the oldest trunk fruits and dies off, it is replaced with a new main trunk. They need a warm and humid tropical climate with organically rich, well-draining soil. They grow in full sun to part shade.

Keywords: papaya, vanilla, banana, plantain, vanilla bean

About this Author

Brian Albert has been in the publishing industry since 1999. He is an expert in horticulture, with a focus on aquatics and tropical plants like orchids. He has successfully run an aquatic plant business for the last five years. Albert's writing experience includes the Greater Portland Aquarium Society newsletter and politics coverage for a variety of online journals.