What are Tropical Plants?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tropical plants are plants which are native to the tropical regions of world. Thanks to the consistent climate conditions in the areas where these plants evolved, they have a number of very specific adaptations which make them very unique. Many people in tropical and subtropical regions like to use tropical plants in landscaping, and they are also kept as houseplants and conservatory specimens all over the world, with especially distinctive examples fetching very high prices from specialty purveyors.

Ylang ylang flower.
Ylang ylang flower.

Although all tropical plants have developed to live in the warm and very humid environment of the tropics, these plants are quite diverse. Some, for example, are designed for life in the understory, with large leaves to capture sunlight and dripping water, brightly colored flowers to attract birds in the dimly lit conditions of the understory, and sturdy roots which are accustomed to very rich soil. Others have adapted for an arboreal lifestyle among the branches of trees in the forest canopy, with epiphytic roots or vine-like growth habits designed to help the plant cling to a tree. Many canopy plants are well suited to container gardening.

Hibiscus is a tropical plant.
Hibiscus is a tropical plant.

Many tropical plants have large, vivid flowers, which is one reason they are so appealing in landscaping and homes. Some of these flowers are incredibly elaborate, looking more like modern art than flowers, with exotic spikes, plumes, and feathering. Tropical plants may also have rich scents which some people find pleasing, and their flowers and leaves are very long-lasting, as long as conditions around the plant are kept warm and humid.

Plumeria is a tropical tree.
Plumeria is a tropical tree.

Trees, shrubs, and vines can all be found in the tropics. Some examples of tropical trees include plumeria, ylang-ylang, ebony, teak, and palms. Hibiscus, orchids, gardenia, bird-of-paradise, and fire brush are some commonly-grown tropical shrubs and plants, while bougainvillea, morning glory, passion vines, and rubber vines are some well-known tropical vines. In the tropics and subtropics, these plants grow almost like weeds, although they may require a bit more work in greenhouses and in regions with marginal climates.

Different kinds of palm plants are tropical.
Different kinds of palm plants are tropical.

The tropics are one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world, and there are thousands of known tropical plant species, some of which have uses beyond pure decoration. Some nurseries specialize in the cultivation and sale of tropical products, and they are a good resource for gardeners. It is also possible to peruse large catalogs and sourcebooks of tropical plants divided by color, growth habit, or size, making it easy for gardeners to find the right plant for their needs.

Gardeners in warm climates can dress up patios and gardens with the colorful, tropical ti plant.
Gardeners in warm climates can dress up patios and gardens with the colorful, tropical ti plant.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@seag47 - I would love to have a palm tree in my yard, but I have four dogs, and I have heard that some types of palm tree are poisonous to them. I know for a fact that sago palm is toxic to animals and humans.

I have a friend whose dog got very sick from chewing on the root of the tree, and had he not vomited it up and gotten medical attention right away, he would have died.

He was foaming at the mouth and shaking all over after gnawing on it. He had to have an IV and stay at the clinic for two days to flush out his system.

Sago palm’s seeds are bright red and alluring to small children, also. No one with little kids or animals should own one of these. The risk is just too great.


I did not know that passion vines were considered tropical. I live in northeast Mississippi, and this vine grows wild here. We do have super humid weather, and it seems like more of the year is hot than cold. I guess this is satisfactory for tropical plants.

I love the unique look of the passion flower. It looks like something out of a jungle. It’s wiry purple petals and strange creamy white parts protruding from the center make it look like it came from someone’s wild imagination. Now that I think about it, it truly fits in with the other exotic tropical plants.


Tropical hibiscus plants are so gorgeous. I bought one for my friend as a birthday present, and I kept it in the house for about a week before giving it to her. I got to enjoy its massive blooms, which were about as big as saucers.

The large, bubblegum pink blooms had dark pink centers. The petals felt like skin. The blooms only lasted a day or two at a time, but new ones were always on board to replace them.

I gave her this plant at the beginning of summer. The season was very hot and humid, and she said the plant flourished all summer long.


I live in the subtropical region of the United States, so most of these tropical plants do well here in the summer. I have had success with several gorgeous, exotic plants, though I do have to bring them indoors in the wintertime.

My husband bought me some sort of tropical palm bush. I planted it in the center of my semicircular flower garden, and it did very well in the summer and fall months. The lady at the nursery had told him that it could survive temperatures down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, so I thought it would be safe to leave in the ground during winter, which is normally mild here.

However, this past winter, we had two of the biggest snowfalls this region has ever seen. Temperatures did fall into the teens, and my tropical palm died.


@panda2006- I have a friend who went there awhile ago and saw the many tropical gardens and other gardens in Cornwall! She had an especially great time at the Eden Project, which has lots of plants and even the world's largest greenhouse. I would love to go there too someday, although if I make it to England there are just so many others things I want to see too, so who knows if I would get there.


Sometimes "tropical" makes you think of somewhere exotic, but you can grow these plants a lot of places with a mild climate. I remember hearing about how they grow palm trees in Cornwall, England, even- I would love to go there just to see how tropical gardens class or blend with the English countryside.


@Sara007 - You should check the list of toxic tropical plants online, as there are numerous kinds that would make your pets very sick, even kill them. I used to keep a lot of tropical plants in my home but once I got a cat I had to switch a lot of plants out because they would have been very dangerous for my new pet.

There are lots of tropical plants that are non-toxic. All you have to do if you are unsure is ask at your local greenhouse and they should be able to fill you in on all the information about your plants. As for the ones you have now, I would keep them in a room your pets can't get into.


Indoor tropical plants make great decoration and are pretty easy to care for. I picked up some really nice ferns for my living room and with regular watering they are thriving.

I think the only thing I worry about with my tropical house plants is that one of my pets will try to eat the leaves. I am honestly not sure if they would be poisonous or not. Does anyone know if tropical house plants are dangerous for pets?

I have two cats and they tend to nibble on greenery. While they have their own cat grass I am worried they will give my ferns a try someday and get sick.

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