Exotic Plants for Temperate Zones

Hawaiian yellow plumeria.

There are many plants that are native to tropical locations throughout the world that can be enjoyed in temperate locations in America where there are not extremes in temperatures throughout the year. Some places, such as parts of Florida, remain warm enough year round to enjoy tropical plants outside without having to bring them indoors.

No Growing Season

The great thing about adding many varieties of exotic plants is that biologically they have no conception of a growing season-- in the tropics they simply bloom and grow throughout the year. People living in temperate climates appreciate the year-round beauty.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Pattersaon suggests, "Group several different tropical plants on your porch or balcony for a splash of color."


Be sure to consider maintenance and how much time you can devote to plantings that require more care than others. In order to control plants that may be more invasive--water-loving plants in particular--consider using containers for your plantings. Also, if you have flower beds, be sure to add adequate borders for them--either pavement or rock borders, or mulch. Taking care to install them with maintenance in mind will ensure that you have the right plants for your lifestyle.

TIP: Susan advises, "Be sure that you understand how to care for your tropical plant before you bring it home."

Tropical Vine Support

Since the tropical plant world teems with vines and trailing plants, consider installing a garden structure to act as a support for your climbing plants. Bringing your exotics up to eye level is an appealing way to showcase them and even add shade to your patio area. An arbor or even more elegant pergola will go a long way to transforming your garden into an outdoor tropical room reminiscent of Mexican courtyard gardens or Spanish patios.

TIP: Susan adds, "Even a simple section of wrought iron fencing will be all the support needed for vines to thrive."

Hardscape Elements for Tropical Garden

Aside from plantings, garden ornaments, props and other features will help your garden achieve its tropical style. Adding a water element to your garden enhances your lush tropical plantings. Birdbaths, small basins or easy-to-install wall fountains are simple features to incorporate, but consider a garden pond for your water-loving tropicals, reminiscent of the Amazon basin or a Nile pleasure garden. Also, primitive fountains add plenty of tropical appeal as will a rock-studded waterfall or cascade set in a sloped area of your landscape. Other tropical style props to consider are lighting features like torches or lanterns, pottery containers in various sizes and shapes, baskets, ornamental rocks, and garden furniture. Shopping online or at your local garden center will yield many tropical styles for your garden.

Common Tropical Plants

When creating a tropical garden, an ideal grouping includes trees, shrubs, foliage plants and flowers. Where to place your plantings will depend on your landscape, but having an attractive variety will provide great visual interest for your garden. The following exotic plants are great choices to grow in temperate climates:

Abyssian Gladiolus (tender bulb)

African Daisy (perennial)

Aloe (succulent), Bloodleaf (perennial)

Amazon Lily (perennial)

Bougainvillea (shrub)

Cabbage Palm (tropical tree)

Cape Jasmine (shrub)

Chenille Plant (shrub with oddly shaped caterpillar-like flowers)

Chinese Lantern (weeping shrub)

Elephant’s Ear (perennial)

Fancy-leaved Caladium (perennial)

Fuchsia (tender perennial or shrub)

Golden Trumpet (tropical vine)

Jessamine (spreading shrub)

Kaffir Lily (perennial)

Lily-of-the-Nile (perennial)

Mandevilla (vine or shrub)

Mexican Gold Bush (shrub)

Papyrus (ornamental grass)

Parrot Flower (perennial)

Passionflower (vine)

Pelican Flower (vine)

Shrimp Plant (pink-blooming shrub)

Spanish Thyme (ground cover)

Thorn Apple (shrub)

Tropical Hibiscus (tree or shrub)

Yellow Musk Mallow (tender perennial with bright bloom)