Types of Tropical Rainforest Plants You Can Easily Grow

Exotic Tropical Plant List

The best tropical rainforest plants for growing in the landscape. Cold hardy outdoor tropicals that will turn any garden into a lush, green paradise. Small, indoor foliage, and water plants.

A pond wreathed in tropical foliage.

Plants in tropical rainforests tend to be leafy, shade-loving creatures.  Their leaves develop large surfaces in order to capture the elusive rays of sunlight that manage to filter through the tree canopy down to the plants growing closer to the forest floor.

Scindapsus aureus used as a ground cover at a botanical garden in Hawaii. In temperate regions, this plant is grown in hanging baskets indoors.

Well fed banana plants often flower and fruit at the same time.

Bananas are grown for their tropical fruit and/or foliage, but they produce large, exotic flowers as well.

In addition to being shady, rainforests are usually steamy.  Your ability to  recreate these conditions in your home or garden will largely determine your success in growing tropical plants.

For indoor gardeners, providing shade and constant warmth will not be a problem.  Their challenge will be in giving some of these plants the high humidity they require.

Green house growers will find the cultivation of tropical rainforest plants quite simple as the light and humidity within these structures is easily controlled.

Outdoor gardeners, who wish to cultivate an exotic, tropical landscape, will have the most fun of all.  All of the plants listed below are winter hardy in zones 10 and 11.  Many can be grown outside in the open ground into zone 9.  Some truly cold hardy types will survive winters in zone 8.

To make it easier for you to choose the plants most likely to perform well in your yard, I will give each plant's country of origin. For plants that can tolerate some frost, I will list the coldest zone in which they are known to survive outdoors.  Where no designation is made, that species is frost tender.

Tropical Plant List

Tropical Flowering Plants

The fragrant Crinum is hardy into zone 8b.

Ornamental ginger is hardy to zone 9.

The plate-sized flowers of Hibiscus rosa sinensis bloom in every color imaginable.  There are single and double forms, cultivars with red or variegated leaves, small hybrids that can be kept in a pot for years, and older cultivars that will grow to the size of small trees when planted outdoors.

China, zone 9

The blooms of Heliconia rostrata resemble brightly colored lobster claws.

Central and South America, zone 9b

Medinilla myriantha a.k.a Malaysian grapes because of the purple clusters in which its exotic flowers hang.

Bamboo orchids Arundina bambusifolia is a tall, fragrant terrestrial orchid native to Hawaii.

Moth orchids give more days of bloom than any other type. Many beautiful colors and patterns are available, including stripes!

Climbing Gloriosa lilies grow from a cigar-like tuber.  The vine ascends by wrapping its leaf tips around any support thin enough for them to grasp.

Uganda, zone 9

Canna and crotons (foreground).

In the U.S., Euphorbia pulcherrima is widely grown in small pots as a Christmas decoration.  In its native Mexico, it grows to tree-like proportions.

Zone 9b

Orthosiphon aristatus is called Cat Whiskers because of the wispy stamens of its white or lavender blooms.

Southeast Asia, zone 9a with protection

Orange Bird of Paradise

Giant White Bird of Paradise resembles a banana plant. Strelitzia nicolai is much taller and more tender than the orange-flowered S. reginae.

South Africa

Tropical Pitcher Plants form insect-eating cups filled with digestive fluid.

Borneo, zone 11

Tropical Foliage Plants

Split leaf Philodendron in the wild.

The same plant in a zone 9 landscape.

Madagascar Dragon Tree - Plain green or striped spiky leaves on upright canes to 7 feet.

Crotons provide year-round color with their multi-colored and patterned leaves.

Polynesia and Ceylon, zone 9b

The Indoor Corn Plant features fat canes and leaves which resemble those of the grain for which it is named.

Ethiopia and Sierra Leone

Dracaena deremensis offers dark green or striped palm-like leaves on tall canes.

Tropical Africa

The peacock tail crown of Ravenala madagascariensis is sure to be a focal point in any setting. Mature plants reach 40 foot heights.

Madagascar, zone 9a

Taro growing in a Hawaiian rainforest.

The same plant used in a landscape.

Umbrella Trees can bloom under certain conditions, but are more often raised for their glossy, sometimes variegated, foliage.

Australia, zone 9a

Coffee plants are grown primarily for their dark, delicious foliage despite the fact that they produce sweetly fragrant, if not showy, flowers and useful red berries.

The green and gold striped leaves of Variegated Ginger make bold landscape accents in sunny or shady beds.

zone 7b with winter protection

Small Tropical Plants

Bromeliads and tallindsias.

The beautifully marked and spotted leaves of Dumb Cane can cause laryngitis if ingested.

Central and South America

Impatiens hail from various parts of Africa.  They contribute color to shade gardens in zones 9b-11.  The New Guinea hybrids feature larger flowers and greater sun tolerance.

Crossandra produces long-lasting spikes of orange flowers when given the warmth and humidity it requires.

India and Sri Lanka

Mother-in-Law's Tongue is renowned for its ease of culture.

That well-cared-for mature plants produce intensely fragrant flowers is less well known.

South Africa, zone 9a

Here in Florida, Hippeastrum is bedded out like tulips and provides a similar color display each spring.

Peru and South Africa, zone 9a

The rough and ready Cast Iron Plant can be grown outdoors in zones 9b-11.  China

Tropical Water Plants

Lotus growing in a rainwater pot.

Water spinach, Ipomea aquatica, growing in a raised bed.

Canna Lilies may be submerged in as much as 6 inches of water while the plants are actively growing. Once the top growth dies, lift them and keep them dry until they begin growing again the following spring.

Elephant Ears and Taro may be grown at the water's edge, in which case the bulbs may be left in place year round, or shallowly submerged and lifted as is done with Canna.

Southeast Asia, zone 9a

The showy Egyptian Paper Sedge (Cyperus papyrus) performs best when its thick roots are constantly immersed in shallow water. Dry air or soil leads to yellowing.

zone 9b

Tropical Waterlilies are not all equally tender.  Several types are hardy down to 32 degrees F.; most should be kept above 50 degrees.

New Pages on Botanical Journeys Plant Guides

How to Prune Wisteria

Designing a Garden Around Flowering Vines

Smart Tips for Pruning Trees

Ideas for Creating a Terraced Garden

Go from Tropical Rainforest Plants to Botanical Journeys' Home Page

Footpath Through Rainforest Wall Mural
Forest of Birch Trees Wall Mural
Autumn Forest Wall Mural
Casa Luna Quebrada Wall Mural

Buy Tropical Plants

Rare Red Angel Trumpet
Angel Trumpet, White
Angel Trumpet Collection, Double
Canna, Bengal Tiger
Bird of Paradise
Elephant Ear, Black Magic
Rare Golden Lotus Banana
Banana, Cold Hardy Basjoo
Lily, Climbing Gloriosa

Inexpensive Houseplants

Fuchsia, Double Purple

Aloe, Dwarf

Cactus, Twilight Tangerine

Juniper, Indoor

Gardenia, Trailing


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