Tropical Plants in Arizona
Arizona has a climate nearly perfect for tropical plants with one exception: lack of rainfall. Address that shortcoming with supplemental water and you're well on your way to growing tropical plants. Temperatures are warm for most of the year in the desert regions. Winters are temperate with lots of sunny days. After all, metro Phoenix is known as the "Valley of the Sun."
Bird of paradise has exotic blossoms that look like a bird's head and beak. Colors include bright yellow, orange with blue and purple petals. The plant grows to 5 feet high with 18-inch long leaves 6 inches wide when unfurled. Hibiscus blooms in orange, red, pink, yellow and peach. Some varieties have a different color on the throat of the flower or are edged in a contrasting color. The flowers have long yellow stamens. The bush grows from 5 to 6 feet tall with many oval leaves in dark green.
Orchids grow in Arizona on a shaded patio. Grow them inside next to a sunny window. Orchids don't grow in soil but in a bark mixture. The flowers come in a huge variety of colors and shapes. Cannas will grow in sun but prefer afternoon shade. The standard-sized canna grows to 5 feet. Dwarf varieties reach 3 feet. The leaves are dark green but there are mottled bronze varieties and variegated colored leaves as well. The flowers are born on a stem in the middle of the plant. Colors include yellow, orange and red. Plumeria is probably familiar as a flower of Hawaii but it does grow in Arizona in the house or in dappled shade. Plumeria are highly scented.
Citrus is the best known fruit of Arizona and is considered a tropical because it won't tolerate temperatures below freezing for more than a day or so. Avocado, banana and guava are other tropical fruits found in Arizona. Avocados need protections from hot summer afternoon sun. It won't start fruiting until the tree is five years old. Oddly, the fruit doesn't ripen while it's on the tree but only after it's been picked. Date palms grow in neighborhood backyards as ornamental trees, although they do produce dates. The pollen of the date flowers discolors pool water to a cloudy green, so keep that in mind when landscaping a pool area.
- "The Desert Gardener's Calendar;" George Brookbank; 1999