Tropical trees come from all over the world--the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa and Asia. The trees love the climate in the southern United States, especially the hottest areas of Florida and southern California, but gardeners in the colder areas can enjoy them by choosing varieties that can be grown in containers and bringing the plants in for the winter.
The Calabash Tree
Calabash (Crescentia cujete) can reach a height of 20 to 30 feet. The branches are long and spreading with bright green leaves that grow to between 2 and 6 inches long. The tree makes a moderate amount of shade and produces flowers and fruit all year long. The cup shaped, yellow-green flowers are 2 inches wide. The fruit is large--5- to 12-inches in diameter--round and has a smooth hard shell, but is not only inedible, it is poisonous. The tree needs full sun and can grow in all kinds of soil as long as it is well drained. It needs to be planted in a large open area and is hardy in zones 10 and 11.
Canary Island Date Palm
Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) is also known as Phoenix canariensis and is a native of the Canary Isalnds. The tree grows up to 60 feet tall with diamond designs on the trunk. It produces more than 50 arching leaves that grow up to 18 feet long and edible orange-colored dates. The tree prefers full, bright sun and needs regular watering when it is young. It becomes more drought-tolerant as it ages. Canary Island date palm thrives in USDA zones 9 through 11--from central Florida through Hawaii. The tree needs a lot of room to grow out of doors, but buy a small seedling and it can be grown in a container indoors or out.
Coral tree (Erythrina variegata), also known as lenten tree and tiger claw, is a native of tropical Asia. It grows from 60 to 80 feet tall and 20 to 40 feet wide. It produces leaves made up of three diamond-shaped leaflets, each of which is about 6 inches long in late winter or early spring. The bright crimson flowers appear before the leaves, measuring 2 to 3 inches long and growing in clusters on the ends of the branches. Cylindrical 15 inch long seedpods follow the flowers. The tree needs full sun, dry soil, a dry winter season and is hardy in zones 10 to 12. It does well as a stand-alone specimen tree.
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