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Tropical Plants of California

plumeria alba image by jean claude braun from

The climate in California differs depending on the part of the state, but many tropical plants will thrive throughout the state with proper care. Most of the state, including the heavily populated coastal regions, is covered by U.S. Department of Agriculture Zones 8-10, in which freezes are unusual and summers are generally warm. The central and southern parts of the state, as well as inland areas, are particularly good areas to grow tropical plants.


Orange, purple and white flowers resembling birds are the mark of birds-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae), which grow well all over California. In the southern part of the state, these plants may be planted in full sun to partial shade, while they should be planted under overhangs or close to dwellings where heat is trapped in the northern and some cooler inland areas. Birds-of-paradise are evergreen perennials that have long, stiff stems, foliage resembling banana plants and flower best during cooler periods.

Birds-of-paradise thrive with regular water and do not tolerate frost. These plants spread, but should only be divided occasionally, as large, crowded clumps bloom best.


Used in landscape for its long, narrow foliage and fragrant white flowers, true ginger (Zingiber officinale) has rhizomes used in cooking. Since ginger will flourish in heat and humidity, it does better in the the warmer southern part of California, but can be grown in warm areas of landscape (near dwellings or in pots) in the northern and inland parts of the state.

Ginger should be planted in partial shade and get heavy watering just after planting, tailing off to moderate watering once plant is established. Ginger is susceptible to root rot.


Also known as Frangipani, Plumeria (Plumeria) is a deciduous shrub or small tree with fragrant flowers that is prevalent in Hawaii. This tropical grows well in the southern part of California, particularly in coastal regions from Santa Barbara south to San Diego. Plumeria flowers, which are available in white, pink, yellow or red, bloom during warm weather. The scent is often used in soaps or shampoos.

Plumeria should be planted in full sun or high shade and requires moderate water after established.

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