NC State Extension

Tropicals Pack a Punch With Foliage, Color, Size

Hedychium 'Lemon Beauty'Robert E. Lyons ©

Hedychium ‘Lemon Beauty’
Robert E. Lyons ©

Tropicals, many of which can be considered tender perennials, are plants that seem to shout, “Look at me!” Gardeners find it hard to resist the dramatic punch and exotic interest that these plants add through foliage, texture, color, size and flowers. Some of these plants cannot survive our winters and must be protected, or replanted each year. However, many surprisingly live through Zone 7 winters. Douglas Ruhren, horticulturist at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, which features many such plants, spoke recently at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Here are some of his recommendations for “hardy tender” perennials in Zone 7 or warmer.

Bananas lend an exotic element and fill large spaces. Consider Musa basjoo,Japanese fiber banana, Musa velutina,pink velvet banana or Musa acuminata‘Zebrina’. The blood banana ‘Bordelon’ is also a good choice for North Carolina.

Ginger lilies are making a comeback as more people rediscover their graceful touch. Hedychium ‘Daniel Weeks’ and ‘Peach Delight’ are good performers. Other excellent choices are ‘C.P. Raffle,’ ‘Dr. Moy’ and ‘Moy Giant’. The tall, late-blooming ‘Elizabeth’ is also lovely.

Elephant ears provide an old-fashioned touch. Look for Alocasia x ‘Portadora’,Colocasia esculenta ‘Burgundy Stem’, ‘Illustris’ and ‘Black Magic’.

CaladiumRobert E. Lyons ©

Caladium
Robert E. Lyons ©

Cannas add punctuation with their green, red or striped foliage and intense tropical-looking flowers. Try Canna‘Striata’ and ‘Phaison’. A tried and true standby is the caladium. Look for the fancy-leaved varieties such as ‘White Christmas’, ‘Carolyn Wharton’, ‘Red Ruffles’ and ‘Miss Muffet’.

A stunning display of tropical plants can be enjoyed at the Entry Garden of the JC Raulston Arboretum. Located at the entrance to the main parking lot, the kaleidoscope of color and texture delights the senses until the first killing frost, usually in mid to late October.

David Barkley

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