Foolproof Winter-Hardy Tropical Plants

These tropical and temperature beauties can thrive in areas as low as zone 6. 

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

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Though not a true tropical plant (the yucca hails from the Southwest and Mexico), this hardy evergreen can add striking interest to tropical-style gardens. With proper care and protection, some varieties can survive in areas as low as zone 4.

Japanese Fiber Banana

Banana is one of the first plants most of us conjure to mind when we envision the tropical look. With its long and broad, leafy foliage, it is a great plant to create a tropical feel in the garden. Treated strictly as ornamentals, these types of bananas are grown for their foliage, not for fruit. Bananas can grow to 15 feet tall and be quite dramatic with their large leaves. Use bananas in large containers or as specimen plants in landscape beds. The most cold-hardy variety is Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo) which doesn't have the beautiful coloration of the more tropical ornamental bananas but, if well mulched, has even come back from -20 degrees F.

Hardy Sugar Cane

The handsome gray-green foliage provides a wonderful tropical feel and vertical accent to the garden. The effect is heightened in fall when flower panicles are produced in large numbers and tower to as much as 15 feet. The plumes begin as soft pink, open to silver and look great through the winter. Hardy sugar cane performs well down to zone 6.

Soft Shield Fern

Soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) has feathery, dark green, narrow fronds that are evergreen and the perfect contrast to bold-leaved plants. They look tropical, but are actually hardy. It's outstanding for shade gardens and naturalizes well in woodland settings.

Angel's Trumpet

The huge trumpet-shaped flowers and large leaves of angel's trumpet (Brugmansia) make a dramatic statement in any garden. A tropical plant that can grow up to 10 feet in one summer, this plant is great either for containers or the mixed border. White-, pink-, yellow-, peach- and purple-flowering varieties are available. Give this plant moist, rich, well-drained soil in full sun to part or light shade. During the growing season feed every 2 weeks with a balanced fertilizer. Hardy to USDA Zone 7. In frost-free areas of the country — and in its native South America — angel's trumpet is a woody evergreen shrub.


Valued for its wide range of foliage and flower colors, this well-loved plant adds a colorful, tropical flair to any garden but also bold texture and height. Foliage colors range from solid greens to blacks to variegations combining a wide range of sizzling hot colors, including red, pink, yellow and orange. Flower colors range from white, red, orange, yellow, pink and bicolors. Typically blooms from July to October. Plant size is 2 to 6 feet tall and wide, depending on cultivar; there are dwarf and giant cannas as well. Treat as an herbaceous perennial in warmer climates. Dig rhizomes for overwintering indoors in USDA Zones 3 to 6 — or for added winter protection, heavily mulch plants in Zones 6 to 7. Image courtesy of Plant Delights.

Elephant's Ear

Elephant's ear (Colocasia) is a tuber-based plant with a very tropical look. It grows to 6 feet tall (and some varieties top 8 feet or more), adding a dramatic look to the garden with massive leaves up to 2 feet wide and 3 feet long. All elephant's ear are tolerant of a wide range of conditions — sun or shade and a well-drained site, but they especially love damp, aquatic conditions. Use in containers with mixed plantings or as an accent plant in the garden. Hardy to USDA Zone 7.

Chinese Windmill Palm

The 'Wagnerianus' Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) has short, stiff leaves that stands erect. Plant in well drained situations, preferably with protection from strong winds. It is slow growing and perfect for a smaller yard. It's hardy to zone 6b and higher.

Blue Palm

The blue palm (Sabal minor) is a small tree or shrub with fan-like leaves and small, white flowers followed by black fruits. It's perfect for adding interest to a small garden, maxing out around 6 or 7 feet tall. Its hardy in zones 7 - 10. 

Hardy Hibiscus

Dinner-plate size blooms give hardy hibiscus a breathtaking quality from July to September. It performs best when soil stays consistently moist and full sun bathes the plant. Cut plants back to 3 to 4 inches in late fall. This hibiscus is hardy in Zones 4 to 9; provide winter protection in coldest zones.

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