How to Identify a Tropical Plant


Tropical plants are known for their large size and colorful flowers, due to the excessive rainfall and sun in their native climates. This variety of plants needs warm weather with absolutely no risk of freezing temperatures, such as in southern Florida or Mexico. Although you can grow tropical plants in winter-prone areas, they must be transported indoors for cooler temperatures. When identifying tropical plants, keep certain characteristics in mind so you can tell them apart from other plant varieties.

Step 1

Sniff the plant's aroma to see if you can find a fragrance, whether it is good or bad. Tropical plants commonly have strong odors, ranging from sour or rotting to a powerful sweet smell.

Step 2

Observe the size of the leaves, as tropical plants can have leaves that grow very large, sometimes up to many feet in length and diameter. For example, the macaranga grandifolia has leaves that grow up to 2 feet wide.

Step 3

Look at the color of the leaves, not just the size. The leaves usually have particular characteristics. The color of tropical leaves are usually greener and darker than that of other plant varieties, ranging from a rich lime to almost black emerald. Take the "swiss cheese" plant, also known as the Monstera deliciosa, for example. It has very delicate dark green leaves and thrives in shady environments. If the sunlight hits a leaf directly, it burns small holes to make the plant resemble swiss cheese.

Step 4

Observe the flowers on the plant, if any. Usually, if flowers are apparent, they will be large and colorful. Tropical flower colors include orange, red, yellow, blue and cream, to name a few. The petals usually curl outward and are deep to collect rainwater or attract pollinators.

Step 5

Bring a photo of the tropical plant to a tropical gardening store or website to identify it if all else fails.

Things You'll Need

  • Camera


  • AZ Gardens: Tropical Cannas
  • Master Gardener Online: Mastera
  • Top Tropicals: Macarenga
Keywords: warm-climate plants, identifying plants, tropical plant identification, flowering plants

About this Author

Lauren Wise has more than eight years' experience as a writer, editor, copywriter and columnist. She specializes in food, wine, music and pop culture. Her writing has appeared in various magazines, including "Runway," "A2Z," "Scottsdale Luxury Living" and "True West." Wise holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Arizona State University.