Though not typically an area where tropical plants can survive, there are several that can flourish in the state of Kansas. Defined as Zone 5b and 6a on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map, winter temperatures in northern Kansas can drop to -10 degrees F in winter. Kansas City is in Zone 6a.
Tropical plants used in Kansas should be protected from the elements as much as possible, including being protected from wind. You should also mulch the roots of these plants before winter, to protect the roots.
Typically grown in the South, Camellias (Camellia) are evergreen shrubs or small trees and some varieties have been developed to withstand cold winters. In these regions, including all of Kansas, camellias should be planted in wind-protected areas and may be sprayed with an antidessicant to reduce moisture loss. In general, plant camellias in part shade in acidic, well-draining soil.
Camellias have oval-shaped, glossy foliage and produce small, fragrant flowers. Among the cold-hardy varieties available, the "Snow Flurry" cultivar is appropriate for all of Kansas and produces a white or pink bloom in late winter. In the southern part of the state, the spring-blooming Camellia japonica is available in several cultivars, including "Frost Queen" and "Pink Icicle."
Chinese Yellow Banana
The Chinese yellow banana (Musella asiocarpa), which is native to the Yunnan province in China, is not a banana plant at all, but a relative that does not produce fruit. This plant does, however, produce a large, yellow lotus-shaped flower that can bloom for up to six months. Known as the golden lotus flower, the bloom is sacred to Buddhists in the Yunnan province. The Chinese yellow banana is root-hardy to zone 6, which includes Kansas City, but will die back in winter. This shrub is clumpy and can grow to 5 feet tall.
The Chinese yellow banana will die back beginning at 28 degrees F, at which point, you should prune the leaves. The leaves on this plant will shred in a windy area, so plant it in a protected area and mulch it as winter approaches.
The chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) is native to Japan, China and Korea and will grow well in all parts of Kansas, where it is deciduous. The vine itself has a chocolate fragrance. A climbing plant, support this vine on a trellis, fence or wall, where it may grow to 20 feet. This plant has groups of five green leaflets that grow on stalks from the central vine. It produces small purple flowers in spring and an edible fruit that resembles a purple sausage.
In Kansas, the chocolate vine does not need winter protection, though if it is growing up a trellis or fence, you should protect it from wind. This plant prefers full sun to part shade and requires regular water.
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