The best tropical plants are those that adapt well to the home landscape. Even gardens in cold regions can have exotic looking tropical plants, as all of these plants can be grown in containers and brought indoors during cold periods. The bulbs, tubers and rhizomes also can be dug up and stored for the winter months and replanted in the spring.
The hardiest ornamental banana is the Japanese banana (Musa bajoo). This plant will survive outdoors in USDA zones 7 through 11. If the foliage dies back in the winter, it will return quickly the following year.
Taro plants (Colocasia esculenta), are bold tropical foliage plants. Another common name for this plant is Elephant Ear, due to the shape of the leaves. Some have bright green, bronze and wavy-edged leaves. A dark variety, Black magic, has become very popular. This plant grows from a perennial tuber.
The windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is cold hardy to USDA zones 7. It is a fast-growing, single-trunked palm. Soil nutrients are not important, but good drainage is. Plant windmill palm in full to partial sun, and give it plenty of water in summer.
The Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) is the hardiest palm for temperate regions. It will grow reliably in USDA zones 7 through 9. It usually forms multiple trunks and remains smaller in cooler areas.
New Zealand Flax
New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax) is a popular exotic-looking grass-like plant. Three favorites are Rubrum, Atropurpureum and Bronze. The large varieties can reach up to 4 feet tall. Drainage and sunlight are important for this plant. It is hardy to USDA zone 8.
Cannas have been favorite garden plants since the Victorian era. The large, oval leaves come in green, red and yellow and orange stripes. They have attractive yellow, orange, red and salmon flower stalks in summer. They are hardy to USDA zone 8.
Hardy gingers have been gaining in popularity. Some ginger lilies (Hedychium) can survive to low temperatures as those in USDA zone 8. The foliage and flowers are held on tall stalks, giving them a bamboo-like appearance. Ginger flowers are very fragrant.
Pineapple lily (Eucomis) is a tropical bulb. This plant is hardy to USDA zone 6. The pineapple-like foliage comes in green and red colors. In summer, these plants develop flower spikes with clusters of small flowers at the tips. Depending on the variety, the flowers will be either pink or white.
Crinums have white to pink amaryllis-type flowers and strappy leaves. They are relatively new to the home garden. Until recently, most varieties required very warm conditions. Newer varieties tolerate USDA hardiness zones 6 and up. Be sure to purchase the right ones for your zone.
Figs grow in both tropical and temperate regions. They have large leaves and a very clean look. They grow tall but remain open and airy. Choose a self-pollinating variety hardy to your zone. Figs need good sunlight in order to set fruit. The most versatile is the "Brown Turkey" fig.