Resorting to Tropicals for Houseplants

Create your own tropical paradise with these exotic houseplants. However, in their native lands these tropical plants have jobs to do.

(Justicia brandegeana and J. lutea, also known as Pachystachys lutea)

Shrimp plant has a rather unusual, exotic flower. J. brandegeana has salmon-red and yellow bracts (small-leaf lookalikes) that overlap each other to form a shrimp-like flower. Another common name for J. lutea, golden candles, refers to the upright golden overlapping bracts. One species is used throughout the Caribbean as a hallucinogenic beverage, while another species is used to treat fever, coughs, colds and hair loss.

Shrimp plant can be grown indoors if it is provided with bright light. Allow it to dry out between waterings. Use as a summer annual outdoors or as a hedge in warmer climates. USDA Zones 9 to 10.

Vanilla orchid
(Vanilla planifolia)

A tropical paradise isn't complete without orchids. Native to Central America, the vanilla orchid has a long history of cultivation. It was used by the Mayan and Aztec peoples in a drink that included cocoa beans, vanilla and honey.

This orchid is vining so it can be planted in a hanging basket or trained to climb. Flowers are creamy yellow. Since it's an epiphyte, vanilla orchid is drought-tolerant, so it can be watered inconsistently. But be careful not to let it dry out; provide additional humidity by placing it next to a humidifier or onto a moist pebble tray. Put it in a sunny window. Because the orchid flower has to be pollinated to bear fruit, and an extraction process is necessary to obtain the vanilla flavoring, you won't be able to enjoy the "fruits of your labor." However, this plant is easy to care for and a great flowering and vining houseplant. USDA Zones 10 to 11.

Caution: The author does not guarantee or endorse the medicinal uses of the plants described above. Please don't try to consume or use these plants in a manner that could potentially be harmful to your health.

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