Tropical Plants in Florida
The Floridian climate offers enables gardeners to grow a wealth of tropical plants easily. The southern region of the state is considered to be tropical to sub-tropical. The high heat and humidity enables plants that prefer a tropical growing environment to flourish. The area rarely suffers from severe or long-lasting frosts. Sub-tropical central and northern Florida often encounters winter freezes and frosts. Gardeners who desire tropical plants in the area will have to undertake frost protection during the winter.
The queen's wreath (Antigonon leptopus) is also known as the coral vine. The tropical vine is native to Mexico. The tender vine offers wonderful growth habits. It can easily grow 40 feet and is a favorite for arbors in Florida. The vine grows as an evergreen in south Florida but is often deciduous in central and north Florida where it can be nipped by frost and quickly drop its abundant, heart-shaped 4-inch leaves. If the root system of the tropical vine is protected during a frost, the queen's wreath will quickly return. Profuse pink, coral and white flowers appear in late spring and continue into early fall. Full sunlight is required for abundant blossom production. The vine can grow in virtually any soil with ease. Moist soil is ideal but the vine can withstand periods of drought. The vine is widely grown throughout the state of Florida and is considered mildly invasive.
Cat's whiskers (Orthosiphon stamineus) is a tropical shrub-like plant. The plant produces long flower spikes in white or bluish-purple. The stamens of the flower are exceptionally long and appear similar to a feline's whiskers. Cat's whiskers are native to tropical East Asia but they are grown throughout Florida. The plant flourishes in full sun or partial shade. It will grow approximately 2 feet high with a 4 foot spread. When planted in Florida, a large amount of organic material should be added to the sandy soil conditions. It is advisable to add at least 50 percent peat moss, cow manure or leaf debris to the soil prior to planting. Cat's whiskers flourishes in moist soil conditions and does not tolerate drought well.
Chinese Lantern Plant
The Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi) produces tiny white flowers in the spring. The flowers are barely noticeable but they are soon followed by brilliant orange 2-inch husks that appears to be round balloons. Within each husk is a tiny scarlet fruit that is edible. The husks of the plant make popular dried additions to many flower arrangements. The plant self-seeds with gusto in the tropical garden and can easily become a nuisance. In Florida the plant grows well as a perennial but in areas with cold winters the plant can only be grown as an annual. The Chinese lantern plant enjoys being grown in full sun and can tolerate a wide variety of soils. Keep moist but not water-logged for the best growth.
The pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) is a tropical plant that is grown for its beauty as well as its edible seeds and pods. The plant is normally grown as an annual but a few plants seem to flourish for a short time as perennials. They can easily attain 10 feet in height. It produces yellow or red flowers followed by green pods that are outlined in red mottling. In Florida, the pigeon pea is grown as a popular ornamental and also for its harvest of seeds. Plant in May for an abundant October harvest. The seeds can be consumed fresh or cooked. Locate plants a minimum of 4 feet apart and plant in in full sun for the most abundant seed production.