Tropical trees from around the world make a very dramatic statement when planted in areas out of their natural range. The trees are hardy in the hot sun of the warmest zones in the United States and are used as both shade and specimen trees depending on the size of the tree and the size of the garden.
Papaya (Carica papaya) is also known as the papaw, fruta bomba, lechosa and melon tree. The tree grows from 6 to 20 feet tall with a straight, branchless trunk. The leaves are similar to those of a palm tree, grow only at the top and grow to 24 inches long and just as wide. The flowers bloom continuously all year long. When one crop of flowers dies and produces a crop of fruit, another crop of flowers grows so that both flowers and fruit appear on the tree at the same time. The fruits weigh from 1 to 20 pounds, grow in clusters on stalks directly below the crown of leaves and can be green, yellow, orange or rose colored. The papaya is native to the tropical regions of South America and is grown in Hawaii, southern California and South Florida--hardiness zones 10 to 11. Plant the papaya in full sun and a fertilized, well-drained soil.
Baobab (dansonia digitata) is also known as the dead-rat tree, bottle tree and the monkey-bread tree. The tree grows up to 70 feet tall with a spread of 100 feet and a trunk that can have a diameter of 35 feet, is shaped like a bottle and is used to store water during periods of drought. The tree produces palm-like leaves that grow in clusters only at the ends of the branches and drop off at the end of the dry season. The large, white flowers look like powder-puffs, grow on long, hanging stalks, grow up to 4 inches long and 4 to 5 inches in diameter, open only at night and appear after the leaves are gone. The flowers give way to fruits that are described as looking like dead rats hanging down from the tree by their tails. The baobab is native to Africa and can be grown in South Florida, southern California and Hawaii--zones 10 to 12. Plant the tree in full sun and a soil that is dry to moist and well-drained.
Bunya-bunya tree (Araucaria bidwillii) is also known as the false monkey-puzzle tree. The tree is an evergreen that grows from 20 to 120 feet tall and produces two types of leaves: glossy, narrow leaves that are stiff with sharp points and 1 to 2 inches long when the tree is young and twisted, and oval leaves that are less than 1 inch long when the tree is mature. Female trees produce pineapple-shaped cones that grow up to 9 inches long and 8 inches wide, weighting as much as 18 pounds. Bunya-bunya is a native of the rainforests in Southeast Queensland, Australia. Plant the tree in full sun or partial shade and in a moist soil. Bunya-bunya can be grown in central and southern Florida, the Gulf Coast, southern California and Hawaii--hardiness zones nine to 11.