By definition, an exotic plant is one that is not native. In North America, this interpretation would include tulips, which were imported from Northern Europe; daffodils from the Mediterranean area; and hyacinth from Northern Africa. Florists and horticulturists consider exotic species to be tropical or subtropical plants. Exotic flowers are an eye-catching addition to gardens, room decor and flower arrangements.
Tropical or subtropical refers more to warm, humid climatic conditions than geography. Geographically, tropical areas border the equator. However, regions with higher elevations would be considered subtropical because they are not as warm and damp. Subtropical regions, home to a variety of exotic flower species, are found between 20 and 35 degrees latitude, both north and south of the equator.
Indoor gardening and floral decoration by early Greeks and Romans is evidenced by their paintings and sculptures. In the mid-1600s, English agriculturist Sir Hugh Platt introduced the idea of cultivating plants in greenhouses. The ability to monitor temperature and humidity made it possible to grow exotic flowers anywhere.
Terrariums became popular in the 19th century as well as the art of floral arrangement, making use of exotic blooms imported aboard clipper ships from China, South Africa and Mexico.
Some of the most sought after exotic flowers for arrangements include bird of paradise, Ecuadoran roses and gardenias. Lotus, oriental lilies and amaryllis are commonly adapted as houseplants. Musas, the banana flower and the flowers of the ginger plant are also considered exotic species. Rhododendrons and azaleas from Southeastern Asia are grown widely across the temperate zones of the United States.
Exotic flowers are recognized as being colorful, showy and conspicuous. In some cases, petals are unusually shaped and bright as with the brilliant, red anthuriums, also known as the flamingo flower. Japanese bonsai varieties including the star magnolia and flowering quince are cultivated to become distinguished. Orchids and tropical lilies have been hybridized to develop more vivid, multicolored blossoms
Exotic flower species require more care and maintenance than average houseplants. They require areas of plentiful sunshine, higher humidity and frequent watering. Flowering may require pollination, and pruning and deadheading are required, along with nutrient-rich soils.
Prices for the purchase of exotic species, whether for house or garden plants or floral decorations, will run higher than more common flower varieties.