Tropical Plant Facts


Cultivating a tropical plant is not an impossible dream if you live in a cold climate. Today, growing tropicals indoors is a viable option for many plants. Although you can select a tropical simply for its beauty, many also have other useful attributes worthy of consideration. They are supply sources for widespread industries such as food and drink, cosmetics, tourism, medicine and landscaping.

They're Used in Perfume

The ylang ylang tree (Cananga odorata) is an evergreen tropical tree that originated in Indonesia but also grows in tropical Asia and Australia. Its greatest claim to fame is that its fragrant, long-petaled flowers produce Chanel No 5, the famous perfume created by Coco Chanel. For this reason, the ylang ylang tree's other common names include Chanel No 5 tree and perfume tree. As you would expect for a tropical, this tree is fast growing, and thrives in full sun. It reaches heights of between 30 and 45 feet, with very graceful branches of drooping, greenish-yellow flowers, and is a member of the Annonaceae family.

They're Used in Dessert

The custard apple or sugar apple tree (Annona squamosa) is a member of the Annonaceae family. The mature fruit are between 3 and 5 inches in diameter, with sweet, custard-like pulp that is popular fresh or in ice cream or milkshakes. Freeze the custard apple pulp for future use, as it is long-lasting. This small deciduous tree, a native to Central America, grows best in warm, frost-free climates, leafing and flowering in the spring, and fruiting in late summer through fall. Among the varieties are Thai-Lessard (green skin) and Kampong Mauve (red skin).The custard apple tree also does well as a container plant. You can start it from seed, and it should flower within a year or two.

Making Leis

The yellow ilima (Sida fallax) is the official flower of Oahu in Hawaii, and a popular choice in making leis. The tubular, five-petaled flower is about an inch in diameter, blooming year round. It is indigenous to Hawaii, usually found on rocky coasts, limestone reefs, and up to heights of around 6,500 feet. The Sida fallax genus embraces a variety of plants. They include prostrate shrubs (ilima papa) which range between 6 and 12 inches tall and usually grow in coastal areas.

They're Used as Medicine

The passion flower vine (Passiflora incarnata) has a long history as a source of sedative, anti-inflammatory and other medicinal benefits. Passion flower oil (maracuja oil) treats skin and scalp conditions, muscular pain and swelling. It originates in the tropical areas of north and south America.

An Official Flower

The Bauhinia blakeana or Hong Kong orchid is the official flower of Hong Kong. A French missionary discovered it near an abandoned house in the 1880s. Today, this beautiful evergreen ornamental graces the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and grows throughout Hong Kong. The Bauhinia blakeana prefers full to partial sun and a minimum temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The fragrant magenta flowers bloom between fall and spring.

Keywords: ylang ylang tree, custard apple tree, Sida fallax

About this Author

Based in Northern California, Maureen Katemopoulos has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years. Her articles on travel, the arts, cuisine and history have appeared in publications such as "Stanislaus Magazine," "Orientations," "The Asia Magazine" and "The Peninsula Group Magazine." She holds a Baccalaureate degree in journalism from Stanford University.