Tropical plants provide a colorful and interesting punch to an otherwise drab landscape, especially in the heat and humidity of summer, when other plants often wither. Tropical plants thrive in heat and humidity and grow year-round in areas such as South Florida, but are grown successfully elsewhere, as long as protective measures are taken during cold seasons. Select a few tropical yard plants as focal points in flower beds and carefully transplant them into containers to live out the winter indoors, in a greenhouse or in a sun porch. Or, dig up tropical tubers and bulbs at summer's end, store in a cool, dry place (55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit), and replant in the spring.
Bird of Paradise
Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) blooms throughout the year and is a striking flower, appearing like a bird in flight, with blue petals and orange sepals emerging from a beak-like bract (petal-like, modified leaf). Bird of paradise is an evergreen herbaceous perennial or shrub without a trunk, and has thick, upright leaves about 6 inches wide and 18 inches long. This plant is clump-forming and spreads in tropical climates, and grows year-round in tropical climates. Bird of paradise tolerates low temperatures of 24 F for short periods, but longer will damage flowers and developing buds. Grow bird of paradise in containers to easily move the plant indoors during freezing weather. Bird of paradise prefers light shade on fertile (nutrient-rich), acidic, well-drained but moist soils.
Cannas (Canna X generalis) are tall, upright perennial plants with thick, branching rhizomes (elongated underground stem). Cannas are heavily foliated and vigorous, growing 1 1/2 to 5 feet tall, depending on the cultivar. Its glossy leaves are up to 2 feet long and the color varies with cultivar from green to purplish or variegated. Canna flowers bloom up to 12 to 18 inches tall and 3 inches across, and range in color from red, pink, yellow, white or striped. Cannas prefer full sun or light shade and various, well-drained, fertile soils. Cannas thrive in hot weather but require plenty of moisture and organic soil. In areas with freezing temperatures, dig up and store canna rhizomes in the fall after frost blackens its leaves.
Grow hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) in a container or planter in areas with freezing temperatures to protect it from frost damage. Hibiscus is an evergreen shrub usually 10 feet tall with 6-inch-long glossy green leaves with serrated edges. Its large, up to 6-inch-wide, bell-shaped flowers range in color from white, red, yellow or orange. Hibiscus prefers full sun to partial shade on slightly acidic, fertile soils.
Grow fancy-leafed caladiums for their giant, up to 14-inch, variegated, colorful leaves. Caladiums are perennial herbaceous tubers, with leaves produced directly on petioles (leaf stems) that grow from underground tubers. Caladium leaves vary in color, with variegated white, pink, red, rose and green hybrids and cultivars available. Unless grown in subtropical South Florida, caladium tubers must be dug up and brought indoors each year before frost. Caladiums prefer full sun to partial shade and grow on various well-drained organic soils. Caladiums grow rapidly, reaching up to 3 feet tall, and need plenty of moisture (two or three times per week) during the growing season.