Tropical plants need climates that are frost-free in order to survive the winter. This renders most of the United States as unsuitable habitat for tropical plants. The solution to this dilemma is to treat tropical plants in your landscape as annuals. This means that the tropical sections of your landscape will need replanting each year, but you will have a bold, interesting look for your design. One point to be aware of is that tropical plants need heat to grow. They do not thrive in areas where the temperature dips below 45 degrees F. during the growing season.
Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia spp.) is a 3- to 6-foot-tall, tree-like tropical plant. It produces hundreds of 6- to 8-inch-long hanging trumpet-shaped flowers. Sometimes the blossoms are 20 inches long. These blooms are pink, yellow or white and very fragrant. They thrive in full sun and fertile soil.
Banana plants (Musa spp.) are not a true tree, but rather, a plant with a large stem that grows 20 to 25 feet tall. The green leaves are oval, growing 9 feet long and 2 feet wide. The flowers are purple on the outside and deep red on the inside. Afterwards, hand-like arrangements of bananas grow on the banana plants. This tropical plant cannot tolerate more than 3 months of dry weather. Cool temperatures slow the growth down on this rapidly growing plant. The Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo) is the most cold tolerant of all the banana plants.
Elephant ears (Alocasia spp.) grow 2 to 10 feet tall and spread 1 to 10 feet wide. The leaves are in a variety of colors including green, yellow, bronze, blue-green and variegated. The leaves are 3 feet long and come in many different shapes. Elephant ears love warm humid conditions.
New Zealand Flax
New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.) produces upright fan clusters of sword-shaped leaves. The leathery leaves are often colored with red, burgundy or pink tones. These clumps grow 5 to 10 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide. New Zealand flax rarely flowers while growing in cooler climates. These rare blossoms are tubular and form on stems above the foliage in the summer.
Ornamental ginger (Alpinia purpurata) is an upright tropical evergreen. This South Pacific plant grows 3 to 15 feet tall and spreads 2 to 4 feet wide. The deep green leaves are oblong, 12 to 32 inches long and 4 to 9 inches wide. The flowers are bright red floral bracts with tiny white flowers on the inside.