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Grow: Plants & Vegetables

Tropical Plants

Garden correspondent Lee May visits Callaway Butterfly Center in Pine Mountain, Georgia and talks to professor of horticulture Allan Armitage, author of Armitage's Manual of Annuals, Biennuals, and Half-Hardy Perennials, about some great choices for tropical plants suitable for almost any garden.

oakleaf hydrangea

Colocasia esculenta
Taro is a large tropical plant, actually a tuber, which can be grown anywhere in the country. Taro can be put in a container, but will not reach its full size. It can also be grown in a garden, requiring a little afternoon shade. Taro is also edible. It serves as a major source of carbohydrates in the tropics where its stems and roots are blanched, boiled or baked.

Alocasia micholitziana
'African Mask'
'African Mask' is very similar to taro, but much smaller. Its leaves are characterized by the presence of veins and a waxy surface. Requiring full sun in the North and partial shade in the South, it will grow to about 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall in a container or in a garden. 'African Mask' is a very versatile plant and is a beautiful architectural feature for any garden.

Thunbergia battiscombei
bush thunbergia
Thunbergia is a plant known quite well by gardeners as a Black-Eyed Susan vine, but bush thunbergia is an entirely different species. It can be trained as a vine or if left to grow freely, will grow like a bush over and around other plants in the garden. Its blooms are a wonderful blue with a yellow center. Although bush thunbergia will not be in bloom all the time, there are plenty of flowers and enough full foliage to always be a welcome plant in any garden.

Odontonema strictum
Firespike is another easy-to-grow architectural addition for the garden, with its large bold red flowers, and is becoming much more available. An annual in just about any part of the country, it has very few insect and disease problems. Requiring full sun, firespike will grow about waist-high in northern gardens and much higher in the South. Firespike's one drawback is that its flowers don't bloom until late summer or fall so if grown further north it may get too cold before it's ready to bloom, but its foliage will look great all season long.

Stachytarpheta jamaicensis
porter weed
Porter weed is a fun and different kind of plant to add to the garden. Allan Armitage jokingly calls this the "frustration flower" because one would expect that its long inflorescence would be covered in blooms, but it actually produces no more than 4 or 5 flowers at a time. It is a versatile plant; as a shrub it can be pinched back or can be left to grow and spread out. Porter weed requires full sun and also comes in a pink and rose color.

Shrub verbena
'New Gold'
'New Gold' is an easy-to-care-for plant that has been around for a long time and works very well for gardeners everywhere. It has slowly moved from gardens in the South to gardens in the North. 'New Gold' is an annual and offers season-long color. Great for any garden with full sun, it is drought-, heat-, and humidity-tolerant, can grow prostrate or upright, and comes in a half dozen different colors.

Pentas lanceolata
Egyptian star flower
Egyptian star flower is another great easy-to-care-for plant. It has a nice shrubby appearance and blooms all season long with very few insect problems. Egyptian star flower requires full sun and comes in many different colors.

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This segment appears in show #2803.

Published August 31, 2007