Tropical flowers bring more to your garden: more color, more fragrance, more size, and even more butterflies. Some of the least expensive and most beautiful are members of the hibiscus family and orchid families. Bromeliads (air plants) are not only beautiful but are also low-maintenance in warmer locations. If you live in a cooler climate you'll need a plan for keeping your tropical plants healthy in the winter. These 14 flowers will bring their exotic beauty to gardeners in any climate.
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The tropical hibiscus brings a flamenco vibe to the patio and container garden even for beginners. When it comes to the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, if you provide ample sunshine and generous water, you will receive nonstop blooms up to eight inches in diameter throughout the growing season. Like many tropical flowers, the brilliant colors of the hibiscus are a beacon to butterflies. You can choose varieties that complement any color scheme, as the blooms come in hot shades like yellow, orange, and red, as well as cool tones like pink, white, and purple.
- USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 11 depending on the variety
- Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, red, pink, white, purple, and multicolor
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Soil Needs: Rich, slightly acidic soil
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The Bromeliaceae family is large and diverse, including plants like pineapples and the grey curly Spanish moss popular in craft displays. In spite of their exotic appearance, bromeliads are surprisingly unfussy tropical plants that can tolerate a wide range of temperatures from near freezing to triple digits. Humidity is an important element of watering, as bromeliads leaves have special scales that absorb water from the air. Use an airy orchid mix to pot your bromeliads, as many grow as epiphytes in nature. Repot any offshoots that form after flowering, as the parent plant will usually decline as the flower withers.
- USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10 (though some varieties can withstand freezing temperatures)
- Color Varieties: Pink, red, orange, and yellow depending on variety
- Sun Exposure: Bright to filtered light
- Soil Needs: Airy orchid mix
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Clivia miniata, sometimes called natal lily, is coveted by many gardeners as a tough houseplant that thrives in low light areas. Not only will clivia grow in your previously barren north-facing windowsill, it likes to be on the dry side, grows best with minimal fertilizer, and is happiest when root bound in a crowded pot. It is the perfect tropical plant for those with a slightly brownish thumb.
- USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
- Color Varieties: Yellow to orange to nearly red
- Sun Exposure: Dappled; partial shade
- Soil Needs: Rich well-draining soil
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The chenille plant will grow for any gardener given ample water and sunlight. Also known as red-hot cattail, Acalypha hispida may need supplementary lighting with a grow light to successfully overwinter.
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- USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
- Color Varieties: Red
- Sun Exposure: Full sun outdoors, indoors high levels of light
- Soil Needs: Sand, clay, loam
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The orchid family (Orchidaceae) contains hundreds of genera and tens of thousands of species, so if you have not experienced success yet with these exotic plants, give it another try. Choosing the right growing medium is critical for orchids, which do not grow well in standing water. A chunky, bark-based growing mix for orchids will give your plant a healthy start. Choose a pot with many drainage holes to further ensure that you will not overwater it. Add filtered light, a humid environment (bathroom or kitchen window), and moderate temperatures to get and keep your orchid going.
- USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
- Color Varieties: Many depending on variety
- Sun Exposure: Filtered light
- Soil Needs: Chunky, bark-based growing mix
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Jasmine adds fragrance and height to any garden, producing flowers from late spring through early fall. It is a slender but vigorous vine that gardeners can keep inbounds with frequent pruning. Humidity is just as important as watering for healthy plants. While indoors (especially during cold winters), give jasmine bright but indirect light and a cool location.
- USDA Growing Zones: 7
- Color Varieties: Pink, white, ivory or even yellow
- Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
- Soil Needs: Well-draining fertile soil
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Aromatic as they are beautiful, flowering ginger plants are an excellent alternative for gardeners who have little or no direct sun in their landscapes. However, as with most tropicals, hot and humid conditions are required for thriving plants. Zingiber types include the red bracts of the awapuhi, which is used in some premium shampoos. Zingiber neglectum Pagoda Jewel looks like an alien life form but grows with ease in moist, well-draining soil. Bring your ginger plants indoors when temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent leaf tips from browning.
- USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 10
- Color Varieties: Red, pink, orange
- Sun Exposure: Filtered or partial sun
- Soil Needs: Loamy
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Protea (Protea cynaroides)
Looking like a cross between an artichoke and a thistle, protea flowers are a staple in tropical flower arrangements due to their very long-lasting cut blooms. This African native sports blossoms that are fuzzy, leathery, and quite drought-tolerant. Protea plants are more frost tolerant than most tropical flowers and can stay outdoors all year in zone 8. Plant proteas in a sandy potting mix and water once or twice a week. A half-day of sun is adequate to coax blooming in late winter through spring.
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- USDA Growing Zones: 8
- Color Varieties: Wide range
- Sun Exposure: Half day of sun
- Soil Needs: Slightly acidic soil mixture
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Anyone who has visited a Mediterranean country will conjure memories of their trip by cultivating this vigorous vine, which grows throughout sunny, dry climates. The vines demand a full day of sunshine, which means you should not plan on overwintering the plants in your home. However, the cheerful magenta or red bracts will appear quickly on new transplants you install in the spring. Bougainvillea blooming may taper off during summer but will peak in the fall, as it thrives when day and night length are equal or nearly so.
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Anthurium or flamingo flowers are most happy when their environment is humid bordering on muggy. The flowers are bracts that come in red, pink, white, and dramatic burgundy hues. The shiny surface of the bracts lends a lacquered appearance, which stands out in dappled sunlight conditions. Provide flamingo flowers with rich, moist soil and protect from temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- USDA Growing Zones: 10 or higher
- Color Varieties: Red, pink, white, burgundy
- Sun Exposure: Dappled (partial sun)
- Soil Needs: Rich, moist soil
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Medinilla magnifica, also known as pink maiden, is a departure from many tropical flowers in that it prefers a shady site in the garden. If you have successfully cared for an orchid, treat your medinilla the same way—it grows as an epiphyte in the wild. Pot it in orchid bark, water sparingly, and provide it with dappled sunlight and moderate temperatures. A daily misting will keep your medinilla going through the dry environs of a winter windowsill.
- USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
- Color Varieties: Pink
- Sun Exposure: Shade
- Soil Needs: Orchid bark
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There is nothing like a few pots of pink, purple, and red pentas to bring the butterflies and hummingbirds flocking to your deck or patio. Clusters of star-shaped flowers appear throughout the summer on 12-inch tall plants that want nothing more than full sun, well-drained soil, and average water.
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- USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
- Color Varieties: Pink, purple, red
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Soil Needs: Well-drained soil
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The widespread availability and rapid growth habit of cannas make them one of the most popular tropical plants in home gardens. If you are plagued by soggy, boggy soil, make cannas a garden staple, as they will even grow in standing water. It is almost impossible to give these hungry giants too much sunshine or nutrients. A weekly shovel of compost or manure can help taller varieties like Phaison reach their potential.
- USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 11
- Color Varieties: Red, orange, gold
- Sun Exposure: Full
- Soil Needs: Rich acidic soil amended with compost or manure
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Everyone should grow a Brugmansia at least once in their lifetime. The sight of hundreds of bell-shaped fragrant flowers in late summer will bring a smile to your face every day. A variegated cultivar like Snowbank will make plants interesting even out of bloom. Provide these shrubs with a large container, partial sun, and regular water. Prune hard in the fall when you bring it inside for the winter.
- USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
- Color Varieties: White, peach, pink, orange, or yellow
- Sun Exposure: Partial sun
- Soil Needs Acidic soil
If you live in a cooler climate you'll need to provide warmth for your tropical plants. One option is to bring the plant indoors in winter; the other is to use grow lights outdoors to maintain an appropriate temperature.