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Tropical plants can offer ‘wow’

Tropical plants add pizzazz to the home and garden. Shown here is Alocasia micholitziana, more commonly called ‘Green Velvet.’ (Susan Mulvihill)
Tropical plants add pizzazz to the home and garden. Shown here is Alocasia micholitziana, more commonly called ‘Green Velvet.’ (Susan Mulvihill)

Want to add a “wow” factor to your home and garden? Choose some tropical plants to get the job done.

Tropical plants are exotic plants from all over the world that most definitely will not survive our harsh winters.

While they can be easily grown indoors, some gardeners dig planting holes out in their lawn or garden beds and set tropical plants, pots and all, into them during the warmer months. Once the growing season is over, they bring them back into the safe environment indoors.

There are plants for all types of conditions, from bright and sunny to full shade. Some tropicals have stunning foliage, some have fragrant blossoms, and others bear fruit.

Let’s look at a few popular tropicals in each of these categories:

When it comes to knockout foliage, you can’t go wrong with Elephant Ears. A personal favorite of mine is Alocasia arizonica ‘Purpley.’ It has glossy, leathery leaves that are accented with white veins. It will grow 3 to 4 feet high, prefers part sun and is very easy to grow.

Other stunning cultivars include ‘Calidora’ and ‘Gigantea.’

The Taro plant, Colocasia, has large, graceful leaves and looks stunning in water gardens and bogs. There are several attractive cultivars like ‘Black Magic,’ ‘Burgundy Stem’ and ‘Elena.’ They should be grown in part shade.

Begonias are eye-catchers, both indoors and out, due to their wildly patterned leaves. Look for cultivars like ‘Iron Cross,’ ‘Looking Glass,’ ‘Miami Storm,’ ‘Escargot’ and ‘Curly Fireflush.’

Another attractive tropical is the Paper Plant or Umbrella Sedge (Cyperus papyrus). Originally from Egypt, this exotic-looking plant can be set into a water garden. It will reach a height of 3 to 5 feet and must be grown in full sun. Its stalks have flower clusters that radiate from the center like the ribs of an umbrella.

Other plants that look particularly cool in bog gardens are carnivorous plants like Pitcher plants (Sarracenia species), Venus Flytraps (Dionaea muscipula), Sundews (Drosera species), Bladderworts (Utricularia species) and Butterworts (Pinguicula species).

To bring fragrance indoors and out, try growing Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia). With its huge, trumpet-like blooms, it’s definitely a show-stopper. The flowers come in butter yellow, heavenly pink and a creamy white.

Other fragrant tropicals include Jasmines and Gardenias.

Tropicals that produce fruit give you the double bonus of good looks and tasty treats but they can be a bit tricky to grow.

Some gardeners raise potted citrus trees like ‘Meyer Lemon’ or ‘Key Lime’ in a sunroom or greenhouse. The challenge is keeping the trees in an environment that is consistently above 60 degrees. Small fig trees can also be grown in pots.

Cultivars like ‘Celeste’ and ‘Petite Negra’ are available through mail-order suppliers. A good mail-order source for tropical plants is Logee’s Tropical Plants (, 888-330-8038).

If you’re in the mood to give tropicals a try, you will be happy to hear that The Friends of Manito will hold a tropical plant sale Saturday. You can view photos of the plants by going to 2011Tropical/index.htm.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at her blog at for more garden tips and information.