Types of Tropical Flowers

Enjoy a Taste of the Tropics!

Bird of paradise picture.
Picture of bird of paradise. Siede Preis, Photodisc / Getty Images

Ah, tropical flowers! The very mention of these exotic beauties can bring a smile to the face of a denizen of colder climates -- a smile concealing a bit of envy, perhaps. But even if you don't live in the tropics or in very warm subtropical regions (e.g., South Florida), you can still enjoy a taste of exotic blossoms and lush vegetation in the landscape during the summer, treating your specimens as annuals.

Alternatively, bring them indoors for the winter for storage or to serve as houseplants.

Before looking at some of the types of tropical flowers available, let's discuss the following design considerations, paying particular attention to staying within budget:

  • Achieving optimal color
  • Adding a water feature
  • Providing seating where you can enjoy your plants
  • Installing outdoor lighting that evokes the tropics

Tropical flowers don't come cheap; yet you don't want to scrimp, when it comes to color. Solution to the problem: supplement the color offered by your exotic blossoms with the additional color that can be provided by use of the annuals commonly sold at garden centers.

Settings with tropical flowers are greatly enhanced, both visually and aurally, by the addition of water features, which can be very easy to build and quite inexpensive. Provide suitable outdoor patio furniture on which to relax near your water feature.

In an age surrounded by electric, the luxury of candlelight has taken on overtones of romance and serenity. This is just the sort of mood you're looking to create with outdoor lighting in a garden of tropical flowers. Yes, you do have to take precautions when using candles outdoors. You don't want the wind knocking your candle over and starting a fire.

But you can buy decorative glass candle holders or Mexican tin candle holders for just this purpose. For an Oriental flavor, purchase colorful Chinese lanterns. Any of this outdoor lighting can be hung from shepherd's hooks, available at most nurseries. Simply insert votive candles and close up the lantern securely; extinguish the candles when you leave the area. A few of these lanterns placed strategically around your favorite plants, supplemented by citronella candles for natural mosquito control, will light the area sufficiently to create an ideal spot for a late-night snack.

Types of Tropical Flowers

Below are examples of just a few of the more common types of exotic blossoms:

Bird of Paradise:

Bird of paradise could serve as a poster child for tropical flowers, so widely admired is it among lovers of colorful plants. This South African native will be especially appreciated by gardeners seeking orange blooms.

Read article: Bird of Paradise

Gerbera Daisy:

Gerbera daisies are another South African native. Many of us know these tropical flowers as potted plants sold in florist shops. Gerbera daisy is a popular houseplant in northerly climes.

Read article: Gerbera Daisy


Lantanas are such vigorous growers in hot climates that they are considered invasive plants in Florida.

These tropical flowers aren't native to Florida but have become naturalized there and have spread like weeds. You won't have that problem if you live in a cold climate, where lantana is treated as an annual.

Read article: Lantana

Canna Bulbs:

Canna lilies are bulb plants commonly grown outside across the North during the summer time to inject color into the landscape as only tropical flowers can. Like another tropical flower with "lily" in its name, Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), it is not a true lily (the true ones belong to the genus, Lilium). Cannas are large enough to form summer hedges when massed along a border. In fall, the canna bulbs are dug up and brought inside for winter storage, as described in this article.

Read article: Canna Bulbs

Hardy Tropical Flowers: Hibiscus:

Are you seeking a taste of the tropics without having to baby the plants because they can't tolerate cold (or treat them as annuals)?

Hibiscus is a well-known tropical flower, but varieties exist that are hardy! These large, showy "tropical flowers" will become perennial favorites in your garden.

Read article: Hardy Hibiscus

But the tropics offer more than tropical flowers. Lush vegetation is also a hallmark of the tropics. On Page 2 we'll look at tropical plants grown for their attractive foliage....

Use tropical foliage as a background of lush vegetation for your flowers. The green leaves of tropical foliage plants quickly add a lushness to any garden. The following are examples of popular plants grown for their tropical leaves:

Palm Trees:

You can't hear "tropical foliage" without thinking of palm trees. The palm tree selections in this article were made with the intention of giving beginners some idea of the diversity of palm trees in terms of the following critical factors: cold hardiness, height and sunlight requirements.

Read article: Palm Trees

Bamboo Plants:

Like palm trees, bamboo is practically synonymous with "tropical foliage." But while some palm trees are relatively cold-tolerant, bamboo promises a wider range of options for gardeners in cold climates. The tropical foliage of bamboo looks wonderful in a hedge, but consult this article to learn about selections that "behave themselves" and don't become a nuisance.

Read article: Bamboo

Elephant Ear:

Because of the large tropical leaves that give them their common name, Elephant ears (Colocasia) are another choice plant for tropical foliage displays. I grow mine around a garden fountain to jazz up the area with lush vegetation; their mammoth tropical leaves fill up quite a bit of space. Like canna lilies (see Page 1), elephant ear grows from a bulb that can be brought inside in cold climates for winter storage.

Read article: Elephant Ear

Papyrus Plants

Another great plant to incorporate into a water garden is papyrus.

Flower umbels -- of which the showy feature is really the "bracts," not the blooms themselves -- sit atop graceful green stalks. Depending on your tastes and your design needs, you can select from either tall or dwarf types.

Read article: Papyrus Plants

Just as I recommended (on Page 1) mixing in some common annuals with your tropical flowers to inject extra color at minimal cost, so you can supplement your tropical foliage plants with green plants more commonly grown outside of the tropics and subtropics, such as hosta.

Also keep in mind plants that, while perhaps not popularly associated with "points South" nonetheless hail from hot climates. For example, although their Christmas connections may make you think more of snow than of sunshine, poinsettia plants hail from Mexico. So don't throw them away after the holiday is over: make use of their foliage in the landscape -- after all danger of frost has passed.