What is a "tropical plant"?
Simply put, tropical plants are plants which are native to the tropical regions of world. You know, where there are tropical rain forests and such. Tropical plants have developed to live in the warm and very humid environment of the tropics
Thanks to the consistent climate conditions in the areas where these plants evolved, tropical plants have a number of very specific adaptations which make them very unique. Many people in warmer tropical and subtropical regions, where temperatures remain warm year around, like to use tropical plants in landscaping. in colder regions tropical plants are often grown indoors as houseplants or outdoors for seasonal color and to provide a tropical feel to a landscape or garden. That being said, there are some species and cultivars of tropical plants, such as hardy bananas, palms, canna lilies and elephant ears that are quite cold hardy, and are successfully being grown as perennials in landscapes and gardens throughout the southern United States.
Below are lists of both cold hardy and tender (not cold hardy) tropical plants.
Cold Hardy Tropical Plants
*NOTE: *When I use the term "Cold Hardy," this does not necessarily mean a plant will be hardy in your area. Always check for USDA Hardiness Zones listed for a particular plant or consult with your local nursery and garden center professional as to hardiness.
Banana Trees - There are several varieties of cold hardy banana that can be grown year around outdoors in southern regions of the U.S.. The Japanese Fiber Banana is one example of these. When grown in the U.S., there isn't a long enough warm season to produce a crop of bananas. But hey, there's no better plant to bring the tropical feel to your outdoor living areas!
Canna Lily - Canna lilies grow somewhat like corn but with much larger leaves. They produce large, colorful, iris-like flowers throughout the warm season, usually to first frost in the fall. There are many varieties of Canna Lily that are hardy to USDA Zone 7.
Elephant Ears - There are many varieties of elephat ear, particularly those in the genus 'Colocasia', which are very hardy in southern regions of the U.S.. In northern regions that experience much colder winters, elephant ears can be grown as an annual. They are perfect accents for annual flower beds and container plantings. The hardiest elephant ear I've grown in my own garden is 'Diamond Head'; one of the black-leaf cultivars. Illustris, and Black Magic are also very hardy.
Palms -There are many varieties of cold hardy palms that be grown as far north as USDA Zone 6. Among the hardiest are Windmill, Pindo, European Fan, Cabbage (Sabal Palmetto), and the Needle Palm.\
Go to next page to see a list of tender tropical plants you can grow seasonally to bring a taste and feel of the tropics to your outdoor living areas.