Tropical Flowering Plants
Even if you can't take that Caribbean island vacation, you can still bring the tropics to your landscape with the addition of flowering tropicals. Generally, they are big on color and lovers of heat, with many that are easy to grow; gardeners have vast selections in blooming trees, shrubs, ground covers, and vines to bring a tropical flair to their outdoor spaces.
Just one angel trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens) tree can fill the surrounding landscapes with the flower's sweet scent during the evening hours. When in bloom, summer throughout fall, the small tree's branches fill with large 12-inch long dangling trumpet-shaped blooms in a variety of colors including pink, white, orange, yellow and salmon. Growing around 15 feet tall and wide, angel trumpet trees make flashy and fragrant specimens or patio trees grown in large containers. For the best performance, grow in a sunny site in fertile soils that drain well with regular applications of water. It is hardy in USDA zones 9 through 12. All portions of the plant are toxic.
Tropical gardens located in the shade won't be for a loss of colorful flowers by the addition of jacobinia (Justicia carnea), hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11. The evergreen shrub averages around 3 feet tall and wide and periodically throughout the year produces upright clusters of fragrant tubular flowers in colors of pinkish-purple, white, red, yellow or salmon, complimented by glossy green foliage. Grow the herbaceous perennial in fertile, well-drained soil kept moist through regular water applications and prune in springtime to promote bushier growth. Use jacobinia as a specimen, mixed gardens, containers or as a foundation plant.
With flower colors so bright, they almost look florescent; filling a sunny border with gazanias, (Gazania spp.) will surely grab the eye's attention. The daisy-like flowers range in vivid colors of red, maroon, yellow and orange, with some cultivars striped in several hues. The low-growing herbaceous perennials average around 6 inches tall with greenish-blue foliage. Grown as annuals in cooler regions, gazania performs as a perennial in USDA zones 9 through 11. These are hardy and drought-tolerant plants requiring a sunny site and soil that drains well for best growth. Use along a walkway, mixed garden, mass planting or in containers. The flowers close at night.
Desert rose (Adenium obesum) makes an interesting addition to tropical gardens or containers with its large fleshy trunk and trumpet-shaped flowers blooming in pink, red and mixed colors of pink and white and red and white spring through autumn. Slow-growing, it can take years for the succulent shrub to reach 6 feet in height. It makes an attractive plant used as a specimen, in pool areas, rock gardens or grown inside containers to brighten patios. Desert rose is semi-deciduous and grows best in sunny locations planted in soils that drain well and has a high tolerance to drought. Plants also have a moderate tolerance to salty conditions, making it a suitable addition to seaside gardens located in USDA zones 10 through 12.
Blooming year-round and forming a carpet of bright petunia-like purple flowers, Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex) is a tropical flowering perennial that thrives on neglect. Plants average around 2 feet tall with narrow lance-shaped green foliage and are hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11. It makes a striking garden addition planted in mass, used in mixed gardens, ground cover or as a container plant. This is a perfect selection for gardeners feeling they kill everything as it grows in wet and dry soils, having a high tolerance to drought and in full sun to partial shade. Mexican petunia is such a hardy grower it can have invasive tendencies, readily spreading to areas throughout the garden.
Also called jungle flame, ixora (Ixora coccinia) are evergreen tropical shrubs averaging around 4 feet tall and wide. Large 5-inch clusters of coral-red flower heads cover the shrub year-round, complimenting the green foliage, making it an eye-catching addition to the landscape. Use ixora as a hedge, foundation planting, in mixed gardens, containers, or wherever a blast of bright red color highlights an area. Grow in a sunny to partially shady site and in acidic fertile soil kept moist through regular water applications. It is hardy in USDA zones 10 through 11.
Lobster claw (Heliconia rostrata) screams "tropical" with its bright red and yellow 8-inch long drooping flower clusters that resemble the claws of the tasty crustacean. Tall stems with long, green leaves grow up to 5 feet tall and blooming occurs in spring throughout summer. The plant makes an interesting and show-stopping addition used in mass plantings, a garden backdrop, mixed gardens, in containers, as a specimen or grown indoors in a bright location. Flowers last for weeks used in cut flower arrangements. Hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11, grow lobster claw in full to partial sun and in fertile soil watered regularly.
During the blooming season of spring through summer, jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) fills the landscape with flashy color as purple flowers cover the tree's canopy. Delicate fern-like foliage complements the fragrant trumpet-shaped blooms. This is the perfect tree for "plant and forget" gardeners in USDA zones 9 through 11, as the tropical tree prefers growing in poor soils that drain well situated in a sunny location. Averaging around 25 feet tall, use the quick-growing tree as a specimen in locations where the deciduous foliage and seed pods won't create a mess.
Producing canary yellow trumpet-shaped blooms year-round and complimented by glossy evergreen foliage, bush allamanda (Allamanda neriifolia) fulfills a variety of needs in a tropical landscape. It makes a colorful addition used as a hedge, garden backdrop, mixed gardens and used as a flowering container plant in gardens located in USDA zones 9 through 11. Bushes grow around 6 feet tall and wide, performing best in sunny to partially shady locations in soils that drains well. Once established, bush allamanda has a high tolerance to drought.
Bush Clock Vine
Bush clock vine (Thumbergia erecta) quickly grows into a 6-foot tall and wide evergreen shrub with fragrant purple trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow throats covering the plant year-round and complimented by small green foliage. The tropical shrub makes an attractive addition to landscapes used as a screening plant, hedge, foundation planting and patio plant. Hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11, bush clock vine performs best grown in partial shade or sun and in a variety of well-drained soils kept moist through regular water applications.
Spider lily (Hymenocallis latifolia) is a clumping herbaceous perennial producing spikes filled with fragrant bright-white flowers that resemble a spider summer throughout fall. Glossy green foliage is evergreen and clumps quickly grow approximately 3-feet tall and wide. In gardens located in USDA zones 10 through 11, use spider lilies along borders and walkways, in mixed gardens, in mass plantings, as an accent plant or in containers. For best growth, grow spider lilies in full sun to partial shade in soils that drain well. The plant tolerates salt-spray making it a suitable addition to coastal gardens.
Night Blooming Jasmine
Stepping into a garden graced with a night blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) at night, fills the senses with the sweet fragrance of its flowers. Clusters of small, cream-colored tubular flowers bloom springtime through fall and cover the shrub. Foliage is small and green and the shrub quickly reaches a height and width of 12 feet, making it a suitable used as a specimen, hedge, screening plant, or large container plant. The hardy shrub grows in full sun to partial shade in soils that drain well and it has a tolerance to salt-spray, making it a great addition to coastal gardens located in USDA zones 10 through 11.
During spring and summer, Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia) puts on a flamboyant show with its clusters of flame-red flowers accented by delicate fernlike foliage. Those looking for a tropical tree that makes a flashy statement as a specimen or shade tree won't be disappointed adding this semi-evergreen into their landscapes. This hardy, fast-growing tree averaging 40-feet tall, tolerates a wide range of conditions and environments, including salty, dry and acidic or alkaline soils that drain well, and should be situated in a sunny site. The tree is hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11. The wood is soft, so grow in a location protected from strong winds and where the dropped seed pods won't create a mess. Royal Poinciana is the perfect choice for brown-thumb gardeners.
Mexican heather's (Cuphea hyssopifolia) basic characteristics may be small, with sprays of tiny leaves filling with a mass of dainty flowers, but it makes a big colorful impact in the garden. Year-round, bright purple, pink, white or rose flowers cover the small tropical shrub, making it a flashy addition used in borders, walkways, mass planting or in containers. For the best color, grow Mexican heather in partial sun and fertile soil that drains well with regular water applications. Hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11, the evergreen grows 2 feet tall and wide and require little maintenance for hardy growth.
African Bush Daisy
With its year-round, cheery bright yellow daisy flowers and glossy green evergreen foliage, African bush daisy (Gamolepis chrysanthemoides) offers a welcoming and showy appeal to garden locations. The tropical, perennial subshrub averages 3 feet tall and wide, making it a colorful addition used in mass plantings, mixed flower gardens, containers, or as a specimen. Hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11, grow African bush daisies in a sunny site and in well-drained soils watered regularly and deadhead spent blooms to promote continuous flowers.
Starting in springtime, clusters of brilliant orange-red tubular flowers fill the canopy of Geiger (Cordia sebestena) trees and are accented by large green foliage, making it a tropical show-stopper used as a landscape specimen, shade tree or large container specimen. The slow-growing evergreen reaches 25 feet tall and after flowering, small, pear-shaped aromatic but not particularly tasty fruits fill the tree. Tolerant to salt-spray, Geiger tree is a suitable addition to coastal landscapes and grows in a wide-range of conditions including sun to partial shade, alkaline to acidic soils with a high tolerance to drought. It is a suitable choice for novice gardeners living in USDA zones 10 through 11.
Bring on the heat and crossandra (Crossandra infundibuliformis) keeps growing and flowering without skipping a beat. The tropical perennial produces long stems attached to clusters of tubular flowers overlapping each other in shades of orange, pink, red or yellow. Glossy evergreen leaves compliment the year-round flowers. Plants grow 3 feet tall and wide and prefer a site located in partial sun or shade and fertile soil that drains well but kept moist through regular water applications. Use crossandra in mixed gardens, along borders, as a specimen, in containers grown outdoors and inside. It is hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11.
Golden Shrimp Plant
With bright yellow bracts resembling a shrimp, golden shrimp plant's (Pachystachys lutea) unique flowers make it a colorful and showy addition to gardens located in partial shade to sun. The tropical perennial shrub grows 3 feet tall and wide and the flower bracts rise above the evergreen green foliage and bloom year-round. Grow this hardy plant in fertile soil that drains well, but kept moist through regular water applications and in USDA zones 9 through 11. The hardy plant works well grown in containers, mass plantings, small hedge or foundation plant.
Those looking for a carefree and quick-growing flowering tropical vine should look no further than sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora). Before you know it, the evergreen vine covers arbors, trellises or fences, filling with large, blue trumpet-shaped flowers with white throats, blooming summer into fall. Gardeners living in USDA zones 9 through 11 can grow this carefree vine in partial shade or sun and for the best performance, plant in a fertile site and water every few weeks. Use with a yellow or red flowering ground cover to accent the blue flowers.
Turks cap (Malvaviscus penduliflorus), also called sleeping hibiscus because the flowers never fully open, is a hardy evergreen shrub producing red or pink 2.5-inch drooping flowers year-round. Plants quickly reach 10-feet tall and wide with the flowers covering the green foliaged branches. Hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11, turks cap is a suitable used as a hedge, screening plant, mixed gardens or as a foundation planting. Grow in full to partial sun and in soil that drains well. Once established, the plant is very tolerant to drought conditions and requires little in care other than a spring pruning for shaping.
Growing a lush tropical garden with brightly colored blooms creates an outdoor space that gives you that island feel without ever leaving the confines of your home. Once your friends see your handiwork, don't be surprised if they want cuttings and your gardening tips.