California boasts many varieties of tropical plants including trees, flowering plants, ornamental grasses and foliage. Some are hardy enough to withstand the cooler temperatures of the northern parts of the state, and others are fragile and susceptible to cold damage, thriving well in southern California. Many tropicals do well enough indoors during the cooler months, provided they have south or west exposure for maximum light hours. Outdoor tropical plants in California generally thrive in the state's moderate climate conditions.
Birds of Paradise, or Strelitzia reginae, bloom in brilliant colors resembling a bird with wings outstretched. Growing quite tall at over 5 feet, the rich dark green leaves grow to about 18 inches. Thriving in both low and moderate humidity levels, bird of paradise must be brought in before the nights grow cooler. Of the tropical flowering plants, the bird of paradise is a popular choice because of the rich variety of colors of the blossoms. Other flowering tropical plants in California include the bromeliad varieties, torch ginger, calla lily and calathea plants.
Lemon tree, or Citrus limon, is a popular tropical tree -- with cultivars such as Rosenberg, Armstrong, Genoa and eureka that thrive in Southern California conditions. Lemon trees are cold sensitive and have a difficult time healing from cold damage. While lemon trees grow in humid or dry climates, they do not do well withstanding strong winds. The foliage and fruit are at risk from winds, and do best with windbreaks in place. Citrus trees prefer balanced root conditions, with soil that's neither too dry or too wet. Further examples of tropical trees that thrive in California include apricot, tangerine and avocado trees.
Several varieties of aloe vera thrive in California, including the Aloe polyphylia, a large spiky circular aloe with plump foliage petals and spines. Aloe ferox, or bitter aloe, grows tall and hardy in the Sacramento area. This variety does best in well-drained soil and full sun. The rosette pattern of the aloe polyphylla is an interesting addition to an aloe garden, growing up to and over 2 feet wide. The spines grow in a spiral pattern from center to edge. Dwarf elephant ears and bamboo are other examples of tropical foliage plants in California. Bamboo thrives in both Southern and Northern California, provided it gets full sun for at least six hours or more each day. Less light weakens the plant.
Many of the hardier tropicals thrive in the northern areas of California, enjoying a slightly shorter growing season, cooler nights and fluctuating humidity. Hardy tropical plants suitable for slightly cooler climates include the white ginger plant with its lush blooms and intoxicating scent, variegated oriental lilies with blossoms of cream and burgundy and the vivid reds and pinks of the tropical hibiscus plant. Outdoor tropical plants in California enjoy plenty of sun in temperate and warm climates.