What are Tropical Foliage Plants?


Tropical foliage plants is a general term for plants tender to freezing winter temperatures and that have attractively shaped or colored leaves. From a commercial standpoint, these plants are well-suited for use as a houseplant, where low light is the norm and beauty is needed year-round. Many tropical plants can be grown as foliage plants and may be herbaceous or woody trees.


These foliage plants are dubbed tropical to convey their intolerance of frost. Although most tropical foliage plants do hail from the tropical lands near the equator, not all are native to humid, rainy jungles. The highland mountains or coastal cliffs within the tropics have frost-free but cooler temperatures that can provide plants that grow well inside the home.


Foliage plants are regarded for their evergreen leaves that are attractive because of shape, size, color or texture. Rather than worrying about flowers, the foliage plant continually produces and maintains the ornamental foliage to meet man's aesthetic needs indoors or out.

Common Characteristics

Tropical foliage plants in general share their ability to grow without direct sunlight, mimicking the low-light conditions of the lower levels of the tropical rainforest and the low-light interiors of homes. Their leaves have some attractive feature or are relatively easy to propagate, grow, transport and sell to consumers. These plants may be grown outdoors in tropical gardens but also translate nicely into houseplants.


Many different plant types can be regarded as a tropical foliage plant. The Benjamin fig, or ficus (Ficus benjamina), and the areca palm (Dypsis lutescens) are popular as tall houseplants with glossy leaves. The schefflera is a large shrub with hand-like leaves, and many begonias with spotted or fuzzy leaves can be marketed as tropical foliage plants. More examples include dumbcane (Dieffenbachia), peace lily (Spathiphyllum), mother-in-law tongue (Sansevieria), aralia (Polyscias), pothos vine (Epipremnum), tropical ferns, palms and corn plants (Draceana).


Tropical foliage plants are primarily marketed for use in non-tropical regions as houseplants; greenery for conservatories, malls and building atriums; or as seasonal florist gift plants. In frost-free regions, often where these plants are grown in huge nurseries, the plants may also be planted outdoors in tropical borders or under the shade of large trees.

Keywords: house plants, foliage, tropical foliage

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for Learn2Grow.com's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.