The Tropical Look for Your Garden






A Tropical Garden in Costa Rica


A Tropical Garden in Austin, TX

Hardy Plants that Produce a Tropical Look:

Fatsia Japonica

Caeselspinia mexicana




Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon)


Shrimp Plant


Cycads - hardy species

Hardy Manihot

See also, Palms and Citrus


It is in the eyes of the beholder. Many tropical plants look like temperate zone plants and vice versa, so there is no clear distinction based on appearance, shape, size or color. A tropical look garden is one which reminds the gardener of a tropical environment based on familiarity with plants that grow there or plants that are traditionally tropical but certain species can be grown in subtropical or temperate zones.

Anyone who has visited or lived in a tropical region can be overwhelmed by the tremendous plant diversity and numbefr of different species that grow well in a stable warm environment. Temperatures don't vary much from high to low, rainfall is plentiful, and there is a tremendous interdependency between plant and wildlife in tropical areas. .

It is an irresistable urge to grow some of these tropical plants in our gardens, even if just for seasonal interest. A hobby greenhouse helps facilite this urge by sustaining tender plants thourgh our winter period.

This page will hopefuly give you some helpful advice about growing tropical type plants as part of our overall garden.

20 Recommended Tropical Plants to use in the warm weather garden.

These plants add a splash of color or variety to your spring-fall garden but require greenhouse protection in winter. You may wish to try these if looking for something different and eye-catching. This list excludes Bromeliads, Palms and Citrus which are covered elsewhere on this site. Many palms and citrus are winter hardy in central Texas. The list below includes tropical plants I incorporate into the warm weather garden, have performed well in Austin, and overwinter well in a greenhouse.

Platycerium species (Stag horn Ferns): Many species but all can be mounted on trees, fences, walls, etc. for tropical effect.

Pereskia aculeata godseffiana acculeata :A true member of the cactus family that grows like a vine with leaves. This particular cultivar is brilliantly colored and ideal for a sunny location.

Monstera deliciosa: This is a tropical vining plant with large cut leaves that can be used outdoors in warmer seasons in a very shaded location, and as an attractive house plant during winter. There are white and yellow variegated cultivars that add much more color than the species.  See these colorful cultivars.    (Image 1)    (Image 2)

Bougainvillea - variegated cvs: Bougainvillea is grown mostly for the brilliant floral show they provide, but when not in bloom, the following variegated cultivars provide a colorful interlude: 'Raspberry Ice'. 'Mardi Gras' a dwarf variety, and 'Vickie' which not only has variegated foliage, the plant produces both pink and white blooms at the same time. Being a vine, Bougainvillea displays well in hanging baskets - which also is convenient for over winter storing. They are temperature sensitive below 50 degrees.   See our Bougainvillea Page for more info.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima This tender plant originates from the Caribbean and unlike it's bigger relative, the Royal Poinciana tree, remains a shrub but has finely textured, pinnately compound leaves with large terminal stalks of exotic orange and red blooms. Other species, (C. mexicana and C. gilliesii) have predominantly yellow blooms and don't bloom throughout the summer. Trying to over winter it after die back by protecting the roots from freezing is risky - best to dig and cut it back for over wintering. This is a summer garden treasure which grows in poor soils and tolerates draught.

Brugmansia spp:  known as "Angel Trumpets",  these plants produce dramatic 12" hanging blooms that are fragrant and spectacular.   These are great for tall background floral effect. in a semi-shaded area.  The Angels Trumpets are often misidentified as "Datura".  

Murreya paniculata:  known as orange jessamine, this small leaved evergreen plant produces small white citrus fragrant blossoms followed by small ornamental red fruit.

Plumeria pudica:  This species plumeria produces abundant white (non-fragrant) blooms throughout the summer - nonstop.  The spoon shaped foliage is also an oddity. 

Acalapha Wilksiana: Perhaps one of the most colorful of all tripical plants - virtually every color but blue and purple.

Carissa grandiflora (natal plum: If lucky enough to get fragrant blooms and edible fruits, that's a bonus.

Duranta repens  (variegated foliage cultivars add more color to the garden but Golden Showers is an excellent bloomer.

Euphorbia milii cvs. (Crown of Thorns): Thailand hybrid varieties have extra large blooms and foliage and loves full sun

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis cultivars  (Hibiscus with variegated foliage adds additional color beyond flowering.

Ginger varieties: Recommend Alpinia zerumbet variegata, Hedychiums (esp. Dr. Moy), and Kampheria rotunda for central Texas gardens

Plumbago: A splash of pale blue cluster blossoms adds a nice cool effect to the summer garden - borne on a cascading tender shrub.

Hamelia patens: A humingbird attractor, with panicles of tubular orange blooms. The dwarf variety is especially nice and compact.

Nerium oleander: Cv. Mrs. Runge with beautiful yellow variegated foliage offers a striking contrast to the bright fuschia colored blooms.

Philodendron varieties: Large leafed nesting or climbing philodendrons in shady locations add a nice tropical look to any garden

Beaucarnea recurvata (Pony Tail Plant) - not a palm as commonly called, large caudex and palm like cascading leaves from the top.

Caladiums - these tropical bulbs come in many colors and shapes and add tropical color and feel for shady areas..



Whether flowering or foliage, tropical plants can add color and texture to your summer garden.

Common tropical plants that are difficult to grow well in Central Texas:

Some plants are very temperature sensitive and require conditions not found in central TX. They grow beautifully in Zone 10 or higher, but not well in our climate and environment. I have not had success growing many of these well in Austin yet they are seen at local nurseries every year. They can be grown as annual plants but are difficult to sustain even as house plants during winter. A short list includes: Crotons, Ixora, Alamanda, Snow Bush (Breynia nivosa), Calliandra (powder puff bush), Bottle bush(Callistemon), Jacobinia, Mandavilla, Ti plants, and Sea Grape.