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March 6, 2012

Tropical Plants – The exotic garden

-by Debra Anchors

Even in cold climates, tropical plants can transform beds and borders from the hottest temperatures in summer until frost.  Just because exotic dracaena, trailing spider plants, and wandering Jew are indigenous to the tropics and subtropics doesn’t mean they can’t be put to work outdoors in northern regions.  When combined with hot-blooded annuals such as tithonia, amaranthus, scarlet sage and various celosias, the garden pulsates with tropical drama right through the fall.

Tropical plants to try outdoors in cold climates:

Sanchezia Speciosa
Sanchezia Speciosa:  a shrubby perennial reaching four to seven feet in height and three to five feet in width. This shade-tolerant Peruvian native prefers free-draining, humus-rich soil; water regularly.  Cuttings taken in summer can be rooted and over-wintered in a greenhouse or on a warm windowsill, then, transplant outdoors after the last frost.

Colocasia Esculenta
Colocasia Esculenta: Elephant Ear, a tuberous, five-foot perennial with leaves up to four feet long.  This inexpensive and easy-to-find marginal-aquatic showstopper favors moist conditions. Although most gardeners treat this one as an annual, I am aware of success stories if over-wintered inside.  Colocasia tubers are sold in Caribbean grocery stores as dasheen and in Polynesian stores as taro.

Tradescantia Pallida
Tradescantia Pallida:  ‘Purple Heart’, a trailing perennial excellent for use as a ground cover.  Plant in partial shade, or full sun for best color, in moist and fertile soil.  Pinch out tips to encourage bushiness.  Cuttings taken in summer can be rooted and raised indoors on any windowsill over the winter and will carpet next year’s garden.

You may enjoy this, another article I wrote to suggest tropical plants for your garden, Tropical flowers for containers.

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  1. Love the plants. It hardly get warm enough by lake michigan where we live that they wouldnt grow here.

    1. Hi Debbie, thank you for stopping in!

      Actually, I live near Lake Michigan also; I treat the plants as annuals and either bring them inside before frost, give them to a friend for a house plant, or just let them go. I think the foliage is beautiful, too!

  2. This is such a helpful post as I was not sure which tropical plants would do well i certain climates.


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