Travel to the tropics might be difficult, but bringing the tropics indoors is completely doable; most nurseries and warehouse stores carry numerous tropical plants. The best plants combine hardiness with interesting and attractive leaf or flower features. Since 90 percent of all plant species exist in the tropics, according to the website National Tropical Botanical Garden, it is not hard to find a few that work in the home environment.
Originating in the jungles of South America, bromeliads produce spectacular flowers usually growing on tall stalks and large leaves with interesting colors and shapes. In "The Garden Primer," Barbara Damrosch recommends aechmea fasciata, or urn plant, for its green leaves banded with silver and its large, spiked flower cluster that begins blue and changes to deep rose over a six-month blooming period.
Rex and Rieger Begonias
Damrosch calls these begonias the "most spectacular and popular" houseplant begonias. Both begonias grow a foot tall with large leaves in multiple shades of green, red, bronze, silver, maroon and pink. Rex begonias have small pink or white flowers, while Rieger begonias have large, 2-inch flowers that are as magnificent as their leaves. Both begonias need several hours of direct sun daily and humid, but well-circulating, air. Like African violets, they need evenly moist soil that dries out slightly between watering.
Related to the bromeliads, some orchids are equally as easy to grow, given indirect light, average house temperatures and high humidity, which you can provide with occasional misting with spray from a water bottle. In "How to Grow House Plants," the "Sunset" editors recommend the phalaenopsis, or moth orchid, native to tropical Asia. The phalaenopsis has arching stems of white or pink flowers rising above large, glossy leaves. Plant all orchids in bark and never let them dry out completely.
With their large, graceful shapes and easy indoor growing habits, palms are one of the best tropical plants. Find a spot with filtered light and plenty of space for fronds to arch, and your palm will last for years with regular watering and once-a-month feeding during spring and summer. Choose either a palm growing with multiple stems like the lady palm, which is slow growing but can eventually reach ceiling-height, or one with a single stem, such as chamaedorea, or parlor palm, which the "Sunset" editors call the best indoor palm of its variety.
B. Rosie Lerner, a horticulture specialist with the Purdue Horticulture Department. acknowledges that gardenias have a deserved reputation for being hard to grow. But Lerner also says that gardenias will thrive with plenty of bright light, high humidity and the right amount of water and nutrients. If you provide for its needs, a gardenia will reward you with intensely fragrant and lovely white blossoms.