17 Plants for a Thriving Tropical Landscape

Do you live in a tropical or sub-tropical climate, and wonder what plants you can plant to create a tropical oasis in your backyard? Perhaps you just want to find some stunning tropicals to add to your houseplant collection. Here, gardening expert Melissa Strauss introduces 17 of her favorite types of tropical plants and gives examples of some of the more popular varieties of each.

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Tropical plants are a luxury that most of us only get to enjoy as houseplants, or if you’re fortunate to have one, in a greenhouse to overwinter. But for some lucky gardeners, a tropical landscape is fully attainable. 

Tropical plants have specific needs and attributes that have evolved according to their native climates. Most of these plants prefer warm weather, well-draining soil, plenty of rain, and fairly high humidity. 

A wonderful thing about these plants is that most of them are evergreen. Using that word for a palm tree may seem funny, but they fall into this group. Some of these tropical plants can be perennial in cooler climates, and many can be grown as houseplants.

Whether you live in a tropical or sub-tropical climate or want to create a tropical paradise inside your home, here are some of our favorite tropical plants that will keep your space feeling like a vacation year-round!

Angel’s Trumpet

Close-up of a flowering Brugmansia plant in a sunny garden. The plant has large, hanging, elongated, funnel-shaped flowers pointing down. The flowers are a soft peach color. The leaves are large, ovoid in shape, have a smooth texture. They are arranged alternately along the stems and create an attractive foliage appearance.
Angel’s trumpet is a tall, evergreen tropical plant with beautiful, fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers.

Botanical Name: Brugmansia

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun
  • Height: Up to 30’
  • Season: Summer
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-12

Angel’s trumpet, or Brugmansia, is a stunning, night-blooming tropical plant. It is evergreen, retaining its bright green foliage year-round. This plant is typically grown as a small tree, although it can reach heights up to 30’ tall under the right conditions. The flowers are long and trumpet-shaped, in pink, yellow, and white shades.

Brugmansia blooms in the evening, releasing a pleasing fragrance. It makes a wonderful plant close to an outdoor sitting area, where its beauty and perfume can be enjoyed. The ‘Cherub’ variety is a stunning peaches and cream color with a pale green interior. Be careful about this plant around young children and pets, as all parts of the plant are poisonous. 

Bird-of-Paradise 

Close-up of a flowering Strelitzia plant, commonly known as bird of paradise. The plant is known for its unique and vibrant flowers that resemble the beak and plumage of a bird. The leaves are large, oar-shaped, fan-shaped. They are thick, leathery and glossy green in color. The flowers are composed of orange and blue petals forming a structure that resembles a bird in flight or a bird's beak.
The Bird-of-Paradise plant, native to Africa, has stunning, bird-like flowers in vibrant colors.

Botanical Name: Strelitzia 

  • Sun Requirements: Bright Indirect Light
  • Height: 5’
  • Season: Fall-Spring
  • Hardiness Zones: 10-12

This popular plant gets its common name from the appearance of its flowers. These exciting blooms resemble exotic birds in shades of yellow, orange, blue, and white. The genus is native to Africa and grows in the Southeastern tropical and subtropical climate zones. These plants like plenty of light, but too much direct sun will cause leaf scorch.

In tropical landscapes, these plants thrive best under a brightly lit canopy. Light filtered through overhead plants is best. Bird-of-Paradise plants need plenty of water and humidity during their growing and blooming season. The most common species of Strelitzia is the classic S. reginae. This species has the brightest and most noteworthy tropical flowers.

Bougainvillea

Close-up of a flowering Bougainvillea plant in the garden. The plant has spear-shaped leaves with a glossy, bright green texture. The flowers are small, tubular, creamy white with large, papery, bright pink bracts. Bracts are modified leaves that surround the flowers.
This is a sun-loving vine with colorful bracts resembling flowers in various shades.

Botanical Name: Bougainvillea

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun
  • Height: 20’-30’
  • Season: Fall-Spring
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-11

Bougainvillea is a tropical, sun-loving, shrubby vine that looks amazing grown on the side of a structure or a trellis. This is the one if you are looking for a large plant with major flower power. The thorny vines are woody, make a great espalier, and can reach up to 30’ long, growing up to 3’ per year.

This plant has a distinctive, Mediterranean look, although it is native to South America. The parts of the plant that are thought of as flowers are colorful bracts, papery leaflike structures. The flowers lie within the bracts and are small, yellow, and tubular. 

The bracts come in shades of orange, pink, white, yellow, purple, and red. I am partial to the Sundown orange variety, as it served as the backdrop for my wedding photos, but there are so many gorgeous varieties it is difficult to choose a favorite. 

Bromeliad

Close-up of flowering plant Bromeliaceae. The plant is elongated, flat, xiphoid, with pointed ends, arranged in a rosette or spiral, forming a central cup-like structure known as a "tank". The leaves are dark green with hints of bright red, yellow and orange.
They are suitable as houseplants in non-tropical regions, offering year-round colorful blooms and attractive foliage.

Botanical Name: Bromeliaceae

  • Sun Requirements: Part Shade
  • Height: 1”-3’
  • Season: Year-Round
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-10

Bromeliads make nice houseplants in non-tropical climates, adding a burst of color when they bloom and attractive foliage year-round. The wide, pointed leaves are palm-like and grow in a telescoping rosette. The different species vary widely in size and coloration, with the smallest being barely more than an inch tall, to nearly three feet at the largest.

These plants are typically epiphytic, preferring their light filtered through an overhead canopy. Bromeliads are easy to care for and don’t have any specialized needs. When nearing the end of its lifecycle, a bromeliad will typically produce a large flower before dying. Not to worry, though; they regularly send out offsets to replace the parent plant. The pineapple plant is a member of this genus that produces sweet, delicious fruit instead of flowers.

Canna Lily

Close-up of a flowering Canna Lily plant in a sunny garden. The leaves of Canna Lily are large, broad and spatulate, usually growing alternately along the stems. They have noticeable veins and are dark green in color. The flowers are large, showy, reminiscent of bright tropical flowers. The petals of the flower are wide and rounded, forming an elegant shape. The flowers are bright orange.
Cannas are striking garden plants with large leaves reminiscent of banana plants and vibrant flowers.

Botanical Name: Canna

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun
  • Height: 3’-5’
  • Season: Summer
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-10

These knockouts make a strong statement in the garden. With their large, colorful leaves and intricate flowers, there are few rivals for these relatives of ginger and banana plants.

The leaves are long and resemble banana leaves, with many varieties bearing variegated foliage. Cannas grow from rhizomes, so they reproduce every year, and in a relatively short time, a handful of plants can turn into a large, colorful grouping. 

Canna flowers come in shades of red, pink, yellow, coral, and white, as well as combinations of these colors. They resemble lilies, but they are not. Their flowers bloom atop tall stems, blooming best in full sun. The Chou Chou variety produces wonderful cream-colored blooms covered in pale peach freckles and with a peach-colored throat. 

Coral Vine

Close-up of an Antigonon leptopus flowering plant in a sunny garden. The plant is a highly flowering vine with large heart-shaped bright green leaves with serrated edges. Flowers grow in large groups, creating a stunning range of colors. The flowers are small, delicate and tightly clustered together. They are pink, tubular, with five petals.
This is a must-have for tropical gardens, with long vines, heart-shaped leaves, and clusters of pink blossoms.

Botanical Name: Antigonon leptopus

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun
  • Height: up to 30’
  • Season: Late Summer  – Winter
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-11

Coral Vine goes by many names. Some call it Mexican Creeper; others refer to it as Queen’s Wreath. No matter what you call it, it’s a must-have for any tropical garden. Long, thin vines branch off and sport bright green heart-shaped leaves. The vine is quite pretty on its own, resembling a tender grapevine

When in bloom, Coral Vine is a sight to behold. Covered in clusters of the most wonderful, delicate pink blossoms, this plant has a long blooming season. It is very attractive to pollinators and, when in full bloom, creates a delightful butterfly and bee-watching spot.

It can become invasive, as it spreads by both seed and rhizome. However, I had this in my yard in South Florida for many years and never had trouble controlling the spread. Then again, I love the stuff!

Ginger

Close-up of Zingiber officinale plants in the garden. This perennial plant has long, lanceolate leaves arranged alternately on vertical stems. The rhizome is thick, knotty, pale yellowish in color, covered with a light brown skin.
Ginger is a versatile plant used in cooking with health benefits, featuring tall leaves and vibrant flowers.

Botanical Name: Zingiber officinale

  • Sun Requirements: Part Sun
  • Height: 3’-4’
  • Season: Fall
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-11

This Asian native has become a staple in many of the most noteworthy culinary circles. It has many health benefits as an ingredient, so growing it as an edible makes this an extra special plant. Ginger plants grow from rhizomes, the edible portion of the plant. The leaves are tall, flat, and ovate, and sometimes variegated.

Ginger is more than just a kitchen helper, though. Many varieties of ginger are quite beautiful and produce large, colorful flowers.

Shampoo ginger, also known as ‘Awapuhi kuahiwi, is best known for its large, red, pinecone-shaped flowers that produce a sweet-smelling sap that can be used for washing hair.  

Heliconia

Close-up of a flowering tropical Heliconia plant in a garden. The leaves are large, elongated, arranged spirally or fan-shaped. They have a glossy texture and are dark green in color. The flowers resemble lobster claws and are bright red with yellow margins, growing on long strong stems.
This unique plant features tall, spreading clumps with lobster claw-like flowers.

Botanical Name: Heliconia

  • Sun Requirements: Part Shade
  • Height: up to 15’
  • Season: Spring and Summer
  • Hardiness Zones: 10-11

Heliconia, often called False Bird-of-Paradise, has flowers resembling the other genus. However, they are not closely related.

Rather, they are relatives of the banana and ginger families and are more similar to the Canna lily in structure. Heliconia has tall, flat leaves, and tends to spread, creating large clumps. 

This plant is perfect for filling a space but can crowd out other plants if it doesn’t have enough space. The flowers are red, orange, or yellow and are said to resemble a lobster’s claw. They will bloom throughout the warm months if given proper care. They prefer a bit of shelter from direct sun, though, and perform best with bright filtered light or light shade.

Laceleaf

Close-up of a flowering Anthurium plant in the garden. Anthurium leaves are large, glossy, heart-shaped. They are dark green in color with a leathery texture and a shiny appearance. The flowers are modified leaves called spathes. The spathe is waxy, shiny and brightly dyed red. The spathe surrounds a fleshy spike called the spadix, which is covered in tiny, densely-packed bright yellow flowers.
Anthurium or Laceleaf plants are stunning additions to indoor and outdoor tropical gardens.

Botanical Name: Anthurium

  • Sun Requirements: Bright Indirect Sunlight
  • Height: 16”
  • Season: Year-Round Cycles
  • Hardiness Zones: 11-12

Laceleaf, or Anthurium, makes wonderful houseplants. They also grow outdoors in warmer climates and are a stunning addition to the tropical landscape garden.

Capable of blooming year-round with the right care, the blooms are leathery and glossy in shades of pink, white, and red. In addition to the nickname Laceleaf, anthuriums are also commonly called flamingo flowers because of their appearance.

To avoid leaf burn, anthuriums have particular exposure needs. They need bright light, but it must be indirect or filtered to preserve the integrity of the glossy leaves. Many species are epiphytic, growing on other objects like trees. Anthurium scherzerianum, or Painter’s Palette, is a beautiful cultivar with white flowers that are dusted on top and backed with bright red.

Mandevilla

Close-up of a flowering Mandevilla plant in a sunny garden. Mandevilla is a beautiful flowering vine with glossy, dark green, elongated, alternate leaves. The leaves have a smooth texture and a pointed tip. The flowers are large, funnel-shaped, bright pink, with a waxy texture.
This versatile tropical plant with attractive flowers is suitable for container gardening in cooler climates.

Botanical Name: Mandevilla

  • Sun Requirements: Sun
  • Height: up to 20’
  • Season: Spring – Fall
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-11

Mandevilla is an attractive and versatile flowering tropical plant. It is well suited to container gardening, so it can be successfully grown in cooler climates as long as it is brought indoors in the winter. It is less picky about the sun, performing well in full sun and part shade. Some varieties are shrubby, while others tend to climb more.

Like most tropicals, it enjoys warm weather and lots of humidity. Grown indoors, it will likely require some supplemental humidity. It is a heavy feeder and can be fertilized every two weeks without harm. The Alice DuPont variety produces gorgeous, deep pink blooms and grows up to 20’ tall.

Orchids

Close-up of a flowering orchid plant in a tropical garden. The leaves of the orchid are large, oval, glossy green in color, grow in the form of a rosette. The flowers are small, consist of three petals and three sepals of almost the same shape. Petals and sepals are bright pink with white edges.
Diverse and widespread, orchids thrive as houseplants and outdoors in tropical climates.

Botanical Name: Orchidaceae

  • Sun Requirements: Bright Filtered Light
  • Height: 1’-3’
  • Season: Varies
  • Hardiness Zones: 6-12 Varies

There are so many amazing genera and species of orchids that it is difficult to reduce these plants to one category. These mostly epiphytic and predominantly tropical flowering plants have found their way into a space of extreme popularity as houseplants.

However, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a tropical climate, you can grow them outdoors, on trees, the way they grow in the wild.

Orchids have specific needs, including high humidity, bright, indirect sunlight, and good air circulation. These can be difficult to replicate in cooler climates, so into the greenhouse they go. In tropical and subtropical climates, you can use a pair of nylons to tie an orchid to a tree. By the time the nylons deteriorate, the orchid will have rooted to the tree and will be happiest there. 

If I had to choose just one species of orchid to keep, it would have to be the Cattleya orchid. This large and sturdy type of orchid can handle more sun than most species and produces stunning, fragrant flowers that have earned them the nickname Corsage Orchids.

Ornamental Banana

Close-up of Ornamental Banana (Musaceae) flowering plant in the garden. The plant has lush foliage, unique fruits and stunning flowers. The leaves are bright green in color, large, wide and resemble the typical shape of a banana leaf. The fruits are shaped like miniature reddish-pink bananas. The flower is large, exotic, bright pink with long orange stamens.
Banana plants, the largest herbaceous perennials, offer delicious food and beautiful foliage.

Botanical Name: Musaceae

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun to Part Shade
  • Height: 15’-20’
  • Season: Year Round
  • Hardiness Zones: 7-10

Most people think of banana plants as trees. However, they are actually the largest herbaceous perennials. While some varieties are grown for the delicious and nutritious food they produce, others are grown simply because they are beautiful. These relatives of the Ginger family produce large, beautiful, lush leaves that create a wonderful backdrop for the tropical garden.

They are also hardy to zone 7, where they will die back in the winter and reemerge as beautiful as ever in the spring, bringing along offsets in each new year.

Bananas produce flowers, which come before the fruit or seed pods. These flowers are often quite lovely. They like partial shade and need shelter from strong winds that can damage their broad leaves. The Dwarf Cavendish is a very popular ornamental banana with edible fruit and pretty, red markings on its leaves.

Passion Vine

Close-up of Passiflora incarnata flowering plant in the garden. This perennial plant has lush foliage and charming flowers. The leaves of Passiflora incarnata are deeply lobed and palmate, with three to five pointed lobes. They are bright green and provide an attractive backdrop for showy flowers. The plant produces exquisite and intricate flowers. The flowers are large, have a unique structure with five sepals, five petals and a noticeable complex arrangement of filaments and stamens in the center. The petals are pale purple, and the threads are bright purple.
Passionflower is a tropical vine that serves as a butterfly host plant, featuring large and exotic flowers.

Botanical Name: Passiflora incarnata

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun
  • Height: 10’-30’
  • Season: Spring – Fall
  • Hardiness Zones: 7-10

Passionflower, or passion vine, is a tropical flowering vine that is woody in tropical and subtropical climates. It is a root hardy perennial to zone 7. Native to the Southeastern United States, this vine serves as a butterfly host plant and a food source for wildlife. 

Passionflowers come in shades of pink, purple, blue, red, green, yellow, and white. They are large and exotic in appearance, with intricate patterns of stamens in the center, surrounded by uniform petals and sepals. Incarnata Alba is a variety with pure white flowers that is cold hardy down to Zone 6.

Plumeria

Close-up of a flowering Plumeria plant in a sunny garden. It is a tropical flowering tree with thick, fleshy branches covered with glossy, elongated leaves. The leaves have a leathery texture and are arranged in spiral tufts at the ends of the branches. They are dark green in color. The flowers are large, waxy yellow with white margins. The flowers are characteristically shaped with overlapping petals and a prominent tubular centre.
Plumeria, or Frangipani, is a small fragrant tree famous for its lei-making flowers.

Botanical Name: Plumeria

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun
  • Height: 15’-20’
  • Season: Summer – Fall
  • Hardiness Zones: 10-12

Also known as Frangipani, Plumeria is a delightfully fragrant, flowering small tree that boasts the most common flowers used in making leis. They are a dazzling tree for any subtropical or tropical landscape. Plumeria flowers are so fragrant that they are exceptionally popular among perfumers. Their fragrance is widely used in cosmetics, candles, and other home fragrance products. 

The long, fleshy trunks of the Plumeria tree can store a lot of moisture, making them similar to succulents in that way. They thrive in hot, sandy soil types and tolerate direct sun very well. Plumerias come in many colors and have many different, distinctive scents. ‘Riviera Rainbow’ is a charming, multicolored variety with pink, white, and yellow pinwheel-shaped flowers.

Prayer Plants

Close-up of a growing Calathea zebra plant in a sunny garden. The plant has large, elongated and oval patterned leaves. The leaves have bright zebra-like stripes that alternate between dark green and lighter shades of green. The leaves have a glossy texture.
Calatheas, known as prayer plants, prefer temperate climates indoors and shade outdoors.

Botanical Name: Calathea

  • Sun Requirements: Medium to Bright Indirect Light
  • Height: up to 2’
  • Season: Spring – Summer
  • Hardiness Zones: 11-12

Calatheas are commonly sold as houseplants, as they prefer more temperate climates and don’t like direct sun exposure. However, they grow very well under a canopy in an outdoor tropical landscape. Commonly known as prayer plants, Calathea has a unique habit of raising their leaves at night and lowering them during the day to optimize their sun exposure.

Calathea plants do produce flowers when they are happy. Some gardeners prefer the plant put its energy into leaf development, though, so removing the flowers will help the plant to conserve energy.

They typically flower once per year, in the summer. There are many beautiful varieties with attractive foliage. The Rose Painted Calathea is particularly striking, with deep purple undersides to the leaves and patterns of several shades of green on top.

Protea

Close-up of a flowering Protea plant in a sunny garden. The plant has distinct, lanceolate, dark green leaves with a waxy-glossy texture. The flowers are large, exotic, calyx-shaped, revealing a cluster of perianths and styles tipped with pollen. External sharp-looking petals are burgundy-red.
This is a tropical genus of flowering plants that require well-drained soil, sunlight, and airflow.

Botanical Name: Protea

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun
  • Height: 3’-26’
  • Season: Spring – Fall
  • Hardiness Zones: 8-11

Protea is a genus of over 1,000 species of flowering tropical plants. They range widely in size, from a modest 3’ to a towering 26’ tall. They like very well-draining soil, lots of sunlight, and good air circulation. Proteas are tropical plants with decent cold tolerance. They can survive temperatures as low as 23°F, making them hardy to Zone 8.

These plants are best known for their flowers. Floral designers covet these large, intricate flowers. They have a long blooming cycle, opening first to a cup shape and then revealing a large cluster of perianths and styles tipped with pollen.

The King Protea is named for its large flowers that resemble a crown. It is highly recognizable and has been named the national flower of South Africa.

Travelers Palm

Close-up of a flowering plant Ravenala madagascariensis in a sunny garden. The plant has large fan-shaped leaves resembling a peacock's tail. The plant produces bright creamy white flowers that emerge from boat-shaped structures.
The Travelers Palm, resembling Birds-of-Paradise, has fan-like leaves and boat-like flowers.

Botanical Name: Ravenala Madagascariensis

  • Sun Requirements: Full Sun
  • Height: 30’
  • Season: Year-Round
  • Hardiness Zones: 10-11

The Travelers Palm is not an actual palm at all. Rather, it is a relative of banana plants and Birds-of-Paradise. It resembles the Bird-of-Paradise but is much larger, reaching up to 30’ at maturity. The leaves grow in giant fan-like formations that resemble a peacock’s tail. These plants can grow very large, so they need plenty of space. 

This native to Madagascar has very interesting flowers. At roughly 5 years, the plant will produce creamy, white flowers born by boat-like structures. These plants produce an amazing amount of nectar and are pollinated in their native environment by lemurs!

Final Thoughts

Each of these plants will all help to create that vacation aesthetic, whether you’re creating an outdoor tropical landscape or seeking out exotic houseplants. Even if you don’t live in a tropical climate, you can still bring the tropics to your home. If you’re lucky enough to live in this popular climate year-round, you can use these plants to create a personal tropical oasis!

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