Tropical Plants

During the Victorian era, there was something very fashionable in the exotic. Tropical plants – gardened and kept inside glass conservatories – allowed the uptight conventions of the day to transpose themselves to exotic worlds far away. Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium had colonies in Africa and Southeast Asia. Tropical plant specimens, brought back from explorers and scientific researchers, could be used for further intellectual pursuits, medicinal purposes, or new gardening techniques.

A century later, tropical plants don’t seem so exotic anymore to the general public. Yet, they maintain their appeal and mystique in a world of botanical choices. Tropical plants can be used indoors as houseplants, outdoors as decoration, in gardens, or in greenhouses. They can be used in homes, business offices, retail settings, restaurants or religious places of worship.

Tropical plants are the most common type of houseplant. They prefer room temperature that is not too hot or too cold. They have darker, green leaves than other types of plants.

Tropical plants are different than desert cacti plants. They naturally come from a moist environment (the Earth’s tropical region runs along the Equator, from the Tropic of Cancer to Capricorn, and includes the rainforest regions). So, if you buy a real tropical plant versus an artificial tropical plant, you’ll need to water it at least once a day – but don’t over water it. If the plant is near an open window, the wind and sunlight could dry up the soil or potting mixture of your plant. Keep checking the soil and water levels. Since tropical plants need high humidity levels to thrive, consider getting a watering wand and use it to mist your plants daily.

Here are a few suggestions from the wide variety of tropical plants available: ginger, Hawaiian Ti, bananas, elephant ears (also known as alocasias), or hibiscus. If using tropical plants in an outdoor garden setting, consider potting them in containers rather than directly into the ground. Cluster the containers together for easier maintenance and aesthetics. Ginger comes in several different colors. The hibiscus flower can get quite large in bloom. Elephant ears, unfortunately, contain a poison that if chewed by pets or children can become an irritant.

Other tropical plants that work well in non-tropical climates for gardens include: trachycarpus, secrecia, Algerian ivy, acanthus mollis and canna. Irrigation is key, but not overwatering, again if buying a real plant instead of an artificial one.

A recent study cited by Stanford University found that tropical plants can adapt to environmental change by extracting nitrogen from a variety of sources. The study, by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said tropical species appear to be more adaptable than other trees when it comes to their nitrogen needs. That could be good news for global warming and the challenges the rainforests face. When confronted with shifts in nitrogen availability, tropical plants “flip a switch” and use whatever is handy, the study found.

At home or elsewhere, tropical plants can grow indoors or outside if the temperature is right. Make sure they have enough water and sunlight. Bring something exotic and fun into your decorating.

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