Summer is here, but your vacation is not. This is the one year you can’t hitch a plane to an exotic locale for some tropical downtime. But, you can still create a feel for the tropics in the comforts of your backyard, patio, and even the sun room. There are numerous plants out there that scream tropical, yet can handle a growing environment light years from their native surroundings.
Here are a variety of specimens, from the star tree of the flower world to the grand emperor of all bamboos. Get your sunglasses ready…
Basjoo Cold Hardy Banana Tree
Even Canada can now get a taste of the tropics. The Basjoo Cold Hardy Banana Tree can handle growing zones 5-11 with ease. A “plant it and forget it” tree, the Basjoo uses neglect to its advantage. Drought can’t stop it. Deer won’t taste it. Pests and disease won’t touch it. Watch your native plant beds go island time with a backdrop of this banana tree. Giant bright green leaves set the show for long clusters of golden-yellow blooms. The Basjoo can grow up to 2 feet a week, and can reach up to 16 feet in height. It also adapts readily to a container, turning that once drab patio into a mini-jungle.
Windmill Palm Tree
A cold-hardy palm tree may sound like an oxymoron, but not with the Windmill Palm Tree. It can withstand growing zones 6-11, and it can turn your drab winter into a taste of the tropical paradise to come. This palm can reach up to 30 feet in height, and is perfect around pools. Its elegant symmetrical canopy can provide protection for a partial shade garden. Landscapers love it for its numerous design possibilities, and its resistance to all pests and disease.
The papaya, more than any other fruit tree, is the symbol of the tropics. And contrary to widespread belief, the Papaya Tree can even bear fruit in the north. If you live north of zone 8, all you need is potting mix and a big container to get your papaya on. This single stalk tree is bursting with pod after pod of lime green fruits that give off shades of yellow and orange when ripe. One bite into the papaya’s subtle flavors (think of a sweeter cantaloupe) will enliven your tastebuds and your future recipe inspirations. The papaya is great in ice creams, smoothies, or the traditional Thai Papaya Salad. If you live south of zone 8, plant your papaya in the ground and watch it grow up to 15 feet. If you treat your tree well, you can receive a bounty of up to 80 pounds per harvest.
Congratulations: The gluttony of the tropics is now in your backyard.
Tropical Hibiscus Tree
The Hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia, a country with one of the most diverse tropical ecosystems in the world. The Tropical Hibiscus Tree is like adding a touch of the rain forest in your own yard. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees will populate the flowers, which bustle with blooms from mid-spring all the way into fall. This low maintenance dwarf tree reaches only 6-8 feet at maturity, and is the perfect container companion piece to a tropical themed patio. If you live south of zone 8, you can plant the tree right in the ground. Unlike other Hibiscus varieties, the trees require little, preferring to fill up with blooms rather than fuss. The trees come in a variety of colors, including yellow, red, and pink.
Black Bamboo Plant
You might be wondering why bamboo is included on this list. It seems that every yard, porch, or even the office desk has this Asian native plant. However, the Black Bamboo Plant is a rare exotic specimen even among its more popular bamboo cousins. But, like other bamboo, it’s easy to grow and maintain. Its sleek regal black canes will add an elegant polish to any garden or patio.
If you live south of zone 6, add this beauty to your ground, and your yard will take on that look of the far east. Its natural weeping shape will add a graceful plumage to whatever landscape design you choose. However, plan your planting carefully since this type of bamboo likes to run if not properly contained. For you northern residents (or even postage stamp lawn owners), you can easily place this beauty in a container and move it inside in the winter. A word of caution: your other houseplants may feel neglected since the Black Bamboo is a beauty that captures every eye.