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Tropical Rainforest Plants That Look Great In The Garden



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There are a multitude of types of tropical plants that blend nicely with palms or other trees and will add charm to almost any garden.  These "companion plants" add  different colors, textures, leaf patterns and appearances to the garden.  This article will present to you various tropical rainforest plants that blend nicely with larger trees that you have and add vivid color and diversity.  Almost all of the pictures below were photos of plants at our nursery.  Many say that the "garden is not done until you add companion plants".  This is because they mix well and can fit among the larger trunked out existing material in the garden.  This will be mostly a photographic tour.  I will only make brief comments about each group of plants and include information on culture where possible.  Types of plants are presented in random order with new species added here and there.  So, return for more photos on another day.


Some of the tropical plants that I'm showing you below could be considered a "seasonal crop".  They are available only during certain times of the year.  This is particularly true with Ti's and Crotons.  In the spring season, we usually have the best color.  So, if anything in particular interests you, drop by to see what we have available or give us a call.  We're always searching for new rainforest type plants.  We can obtain many larger tropical trees that make big specimens, but these will be for another article some other day.

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Ti plants are a Cordyline and known for their lush colors  and are among the most sought after tropical plants.  These colorful plants give a wide range of colors for the garden and tolerate shade.  Some will take sun.  They originate from Asia and tropical islands.  They do have some susceptibility to cold and must be protected during the winter if you live in areas that see freezes.  We have found that they like good draining soil, average water and fertilizer, and filtered light with most species.  We have also found that those with darker colors such as dark red, black, or a combination of these colors do better over the long run.  Those with sherbet colors are more difficult to grow.  Ti's are one of the most colorful of the group of tropical rainforest plants.  Significant cold weather and freezes are hard on this group of plants. Over the seasons, colors and availability of these change. 

Ti, red Ti, red


Ti, sherbert          Ti, hawaiian


Ti, red                              T, bicolor

Ti, black Cordyline ti
Ti, tricolor Cordyline Tree
Ti, white Ti, red orange

Ti black Ti black


Alocasia are a group of ornamental plants known for their foliage more than their flowers.  Some have very large leaves with striking colors.  Native to many areas of the world, these exotic plants give a different flair to the garden.  Many have tubers or rhizomes below the ground.  Some species are not cold hardy at all while others can live easily in Southern California.  Some species are dwarf tropical plants while others get up to about 10 feet.  Most prefer part day sun although a few take full sun.  Also, most prefer a frost free area.

Alocasia caladora Alocasia



Alocasia wentii tropical plant Alocasia Alocasia tropical plant
Alcocasia species  Alocasia wentii 
Alocasia Alocasia


Colocasia is a group of plants very similar and often confused with Alocasia.  These are known for their leaves not flowers.  Many have difficulty with cold temperatures but they are strikingly beautiful.  Included in this group is the sought after "Black Magic", as shown below.  This hybridized species
can have leaves that are almost black in color, blue on the underside of the leaves.


Colocasia antiquorum Calocasia black magic    
Calocasia black magic Calocasia black magic by Wayside Gardens website
photo by Wayside Gardens Website



This is a group of tropical foliage plants that typically take on two forms: rosette (confined) or climbing.  The first group form a smaller plant that doesn't crawl along the ground.  The second group put out growths that crawl the ground or can grow up palm trunks, fences or structures.  Most Philodendron prefer filtered light or shade.  The climbing type can be propagated from tip cuttings.  This group of plants is more known for their foliage than for any blossoms they might have.  There are quite a few species that thrive in Southern California. 

Philodendron red congo Philodendron black cardinal
Philodendron autumn Philodendron
Philodendron Philodendron elegans


Philodendron pigskin Philodendron pigskin
Philodendron cannifolia Philodendron cannifolium
philodendron  Philodendron species 
Philodendron species  Philodendron prince of orange 
Philodendron species  Philodendron species 
Philodendron leaf Philodendron xanadu

Philodendron leaf Philodendron stems
Philodendron giant leaf                   Philodendron species
Philodendron species Philodendron species
Orange Philodendron  Philodendron orange' 



Zamia is a genus of cycads that are native to Mexico, Central America and South America.  They tend to be lush, green in color
and exotic appearing. 
Some have red, bronze or pink emergent leaves.  Some have plicated (deeply grooved) leaves with a rough
surface reminding one of the Pringle Potato chip.  Most prefer filtered light and are of a smaller size.  Many are sensitive to frost
or freezes.  All like good draining soil.  If you can grow any of these rain forest plants, they are definitely a great addition to the
garden.  As with any genus of cycads, they are very rare and tend to be more expensive than other tropical plants.   Shown below
are photos of a few of these wonderfully beautiful plants.

Zamia skinneri                 Zamia elegantissima                     Zamia cremnophila
Zamia splendens Zamia dressleri Zamia kickxii


This group of plants are sometimes called "air plants".  This is because most are epiphytic plants (live on other plants without hurting the host plant) and can survive with only rainwater in the wild.  There are avid collectors of these plants and are many types.  We've found that Nerogelia are quite accommodating to the garden because they give color in shady locations and need minimal care.  The clustering Nerogelia below takes coastal sun, which makes it even more red.  It is possible to get hybrids in brilliant red, pink, orange and yellow.  Guzmania and Tillandsia are other types to consider.  Also, when available, the Vreisia imperialis is quite striking and of good size (photo bottom left, purple color).  Along with the Ti plants, Bromeliads are among the more colorful tropical plants. 

Nerogelia hybrid nerogelia, hybrid


Nerogelia red clustering  nerogelia bromeliad

Vriesia  Guzmania

Bromeliad species  Bromeliad species 

Vriesia Vriesia striped
Vriesia imperialis  
nerogelia red tilandsia 
Tillandsia  Tillandsia 


Recently new to our nursery, this exotic filtered light dwarf plant puts out clusters of huge flowers.  This variety
is pink but they also can come in red, apricot, orange, yellow and a whole assortment of other colors.  They typically
get to a height of five feet or less and throw long lasting blossoms.  See how beautiful they are now - yet pictures from
a month ago had no flowers.  Along the coast they can take full sun.  Cold hardiness is into the twenties F.  Plants are
about as wide as they are tall and make a wonderful and colorful addition to the garden floor.  You'll not see this plant
around too much and it's a way to add color to shady areas in the garden. 

Jacobinia carnea  Jacobinia carnea 
Jacobinia carnea   


This exotic tree is exceptional for many reasons.  First, it has huge leaves that can be as long as three feet and
two feet wide.  It also has pleated leaves as shown and has red veins
.  It surprisingly doesn't get that big, perhaps fifteen feet
or a bit more.  Trunk diameter is almost always below six inches.  By pruning, one can create a shorter, more full tree. 
Or, one can let the primary trunk get tall and overhead.  Culturally, this species tolerates coastal sun and can take strong
filtered light and is cold hardy into the 20's F.  It is almost impossible to find.  We typically offer air layer
plants for sale in 5g pots a shown here.  BTW, Ficus as a group tend to be large trees, but not this species.  This species
will not form buttress roots or have invasive roots as far as we know.


Ficus dammaropsis  Ficus dammaropsis  
 Ficus dammaropsis Ficus dammaropsis
Photo c/o Wikipedia Commons
Ficus dammaropsis Ficus dammaropsis by M.B.
Photo by M.B.



This plant is known by many but is not actually a palm at all.  It looks like one but is more closely related to
banana or Birds of Paradise.  It is unique in that the foliage grows in one plant, i.e., it is flat plant when looking
from one side.
  It is quite common that people visit the tropics and see this unusual plant and call us to see if they
can get one.  The Traveler Palm is not particularly cold hardy.  It prefers sun.  If you get colder than 32 degrees F.,
it is a risky plant for you.   Also, there is the wives tale that plants should be planted East-West to maximize
sun exposure. 

Traveler Palm Ravanala  

Ravanala madagascarensis                                    Traveler palm



Ferns are a group of plants that typically prefer filtered light.  They make ideal companion plants, easily fit
between larger plant species like palms.  There are many forms and varieties of ferns
including some that
even make trees that are over 30 feet tall.  There are also very ornamental smaller plants.  Ferns tend to like
moist conditions with adequate water.  Like orchids and Bromeliads, ferns can be grown in trees. 
The Birdsnest Fern below was mounted into a tree along with epiphytic orchids.  The Brentwood Tree Fern
in the picture below is my garden and has over 25 feet of trunk.  From time to time we Brentwoods available.   

Blechnum Fern Epiphytic Ferns
Brentwood Tree Fern in Garden
Mature Brentwood Tree Fern
Birdsnest Fern

Blechnum Fern  Blechnum 
Brentwood tree fern
Brentwood Tree Fern
Blechnum Ferns
Lace Fern Mother Ferns
Autumn Fern  Brake fern 


Crotons are colorful tropical plants with either thin leaves or broad leaves, but typically bright colors like
yellow, orange, red, etc.  They like warm conditions and are susceptible to cold
.  They are native to Asia
and the tropical islands.  They are extremely popular in tropical areas because of their vibrant colors. 
They are typically smaller plants, hardly ever over six feet of height.  They can be used as house plants. 
For those of us in Southern California, the main threat is a cold winter which causes leaves to discolor,
droop or fall off.  We do intermittently carry a variety of Croton but try to warn customers about the
cold threat.   As far as rainforest plants go, the Croton are unequaled for tropical color. 

Croton, curley Croton, Oak Leaf


Croton Croton

Assorted Croton

Large Croton 
Croton  Croton 



Native to higher elevations in Burma, this broadleaf evergreen has a deep purple color and never gets
over about 24 to 36 inches tall.
  It prefers filtered light.  Leaves are a bit irdidescent and shiny.  It prefers
water.  Size can be kept compact by pinches stem ends to add fullness.  Most grow this plant in filtered light
where it's another way to add color in shade.  But, right on the coast, it can take sun.  It is frost sensitive. 

Strobilanthus  Strobilanthus 


This "plant" can become more like a tree with an upright growth habit getting to twenty feet.  But, by pruning,
you can keep in short and compact.  It has hanging clusters of purple and white flowers almost an inch is size.
Berries are orange in color and you can get both flowers and berries at the same time
.  Blossoming time is
summer.  It prefers sun and is cold hardy into the mid-twenties F. or lower.  Shown here is a rare variegated form
of this species.

Duranta Saphire Shower Plant Duranta Saphire Shower Plant
Duranta Saphire Shower Plant Duranta Gardendirect Website
photo c/o Gardendirect Website


This plant takes on a tree like appearance but is small, typically ten to fifteen feet in our area.
It has copper-purple colored leaves and yellow blossoms.  It maintains a small vertical trunk
and can be shaped by pruning.  Cold tolerance is about 25 degrees F.  It wants full sun


Euphorbia continifolia Caribbean Copper Plant


These evergreen plants are small in stature and native to South Africa.  There are multiple species.  A big difference
among the species is the time of flowering.  In California, most plants flower in the early spring.  Flower colors range
from yellow to orange and red. 
Hybrids do exist.  Plants have strap like, thick leaves and overall height is usually under
two feet tall.
  They prefer filtered light.  In a colony, these plants put out a great display of color that lasts for about a
month.  They are cold hard into the lower 20's F.  The last photo shows the yellow type, quite hard to find in nurseries.


Clivia  Clivia 
Clivia  Clivia 
Clivia just coming into blossom 
Clivia yellow
Yellow Clivia 



Dracaena are a type of plant that is popular as a houseplant.  However, there is one species that makes a magnificent tree:  Dracaena draco.  It becomes a blue gray tree that branches and gets to about 20 to 25 feet when totally mature.  The foliage and the shape of the leaves are its hallmark.   From time to time we carry nice Dragon Trees in 25g or 24 inch box sizes.   The trunks are very beautiful.  They don't require a lot of water and enjoy heat.  They can fit into a tropical garden or a succulent garden and really look at home.

Dracena draco Dracena draco
Dracena draco trunk Dracena draco



As a group, Anthurium  is a diverse group of plants known for either their blossom or foliage.  The most common type are the 'boy flowers" which are commonly seen in blossom at general purpose nurseries.  Far more interesting are some of the plants more known for their foliage.  There are terrestrial bush forms of Anthurium as well as epiphytic plants that natively live high in the canopy and have hanging aerial roots.  Many people will include these plants in the general group called "Aroids".  There are many species which make great companion plants with their unusual tropical leaves. At the bottom you'll see a few of the classical flowering Anthurium, known more for their flowers than foliage. 


Anthurium brownii Anthurium species0

Anthurium Ed Moore Anthurium ed moore

Anthurium pink  Anthurium pink2 
Anthurium red-black Anthurium red flower 

Birdsnest Anthurium 
Birdsnest anthurium 


are a group of tropical plants known mostly for their blossoms.  Many have heard of the "lobster claw" flower.  This is a reference to the Heliconia blossom.  The foliage is similar to a banana plant.  Blossoms can be upright or pendulant.  Heliconia can be dwarf plants or get quite tall, up to 15 feet or so.  They sucker and each stem will eventually blossom if conditions are right.  They light heat.  Some species will survive a freeze.  It is beyond the purpose of this article to show an array of Heliconia blossoms.  Rather, suffice it to say that I have researched as to which species will blossom for enthusiasts here in Southern California.  These species are the ones we grow and offer for sale.  Availability does change over time.  I'll show below some examples of 5g plants which we offer for sale.  This includes Heliconia subulatum, latispatha, lingulata, scheidiana, rostrata and a few others.  The first picture below is an example of a dwarf species that doesn't get over 3 feet.  When plants get to 15g in our nursery, it is not unusual to see them in blossom.


heliconia heliconia

Heliconia 15g heliconia blossom red
Heliconia blossom Heliconia blossom
Heliconia flower  


are a group of Old World Plants that have leafy, typically "roundish" leaves and typical inhabit bogs and wet areas, mostly in Europe.  The leaves may be round, heart shaped, have serrated edges and can be variegated.  From time to time we get various forms for enthusiasts.  They all like damp conditions and can tolerate coastal sun or good filtered light.  An unusual characteristic is that, if they are subject to dry soil, the plants will become limp and actually lay down on the ground.  But, if they are promptly watered they will be erect in the morning as if nothing had happened.  Most species produce daisy -like flowers.  One we always have in stock is below with leaves similar to a Lilly.  Snails do like Ligularia.

Ligularia  Ligularia


Ligularia species  Ligularia leaf


Although not typical thought of as topical plants, if used in the right fashion many succulents can add a real charm to a tropical garden.  We've found that one of the best locations is right along the edge of a sunny pathway.  Succulents, if chosen correctly, stay small and have wonderful spring blossoms.  Also, their foliage is often interesting in color and texture.  Below are a few examples of smaller succulents that people have liked.  From time to time we offer smaller sizes of very interesting and colorful succulents.  The selection changes quickly over time.  If we don't have what you want, we can probably obtain it.  Succulents are fairly affordable and we can ship sampler packs of interesting succulents right to your door.

Succulent, assorted
Succulent, assorted
Succulent assorted
Succulent, assorted
Succulent, assorted
Succulent, assorted
Succulent assorted
Succulent, Assorted
succulent  succulent 
succulent succulent 
Dudleya  Black Rose succulent 
Aftergrlow succulent  succulent 


This is an upright succulent that I've included here because of its very blue color.  It can form a trunk
and get heights of ten to fifteen feet.  Cycad lovers tend to like these plants.  The leaf color is intensely
blue and leaves are narrow.  Trunks are thin.  It takes (demands) full sun and is slow growing.
It has a
cold tolerance down to the low 20's F.  It is native to the SE U.S. and Mexico.  It adds blue color and
contrast to the garden.

Yucca rostrata Yucca rostrata
Yucca rostrata  



We don't carry a lot of orchids.  Growing of these plants is a specialty unto itself.  But, there is one that does quite well in the ground as a companion plant.  This is the Epidendrum Orchid.  As opposed to most orchids which are epiphytic and live in trees, the Epidendrum can survive in he soil.  Different varieties have red, orange, purple, white and other colors.  They like sun along the coast.  We usually have a limited number of these orchids available. 

Epidendron Orchid orchid



This is a flowering tree that gives exotic flowers of many colors.  Sun is needed to promote flowering.  Plants do not tolerate freezes.  Blossoms are all colors of the rainbow.  An older plant will branch and can reach a height of 15 feet or more.  Below is a picture of a Plumeria blossom.   From time to time we offer various colors of this tropical plant.

Plumeria blossom Plumeria
Plumeria  Plumeria 


This plant is known for its swollen base.  It is not a palm at all.  It's woody base can get eight feet or more across after many decades of growth.  It does produce white flowers from the apex.  It is popular because of the peculiar swollen base.  These slow growing plants are quite peculiar in appearance and can be used as a houseplant in a sunny location.

Becaurnia recurvata Becaurnia

Beaucarnia recurvata Beaucarnia recurvata
Becaurnia  becaurnia revurvata 


This plant, like others before it, is not a palm either.  But, somehow it has come to be known as a "palm".  It is a spiny succulent plant, typically from Africa.  They like heat, sun and to not be watered when cold.  They do produce white flowers.  This is an example of a plant that fits well into either an area of a tropical garden or a succulent garden.  Their trunks can be quite interesting.  

pachypodium          Madagascar Palm               Pachypodium


We grow Coffee Trees and yes, you can actually get coffee beans in many areas of  coastal Southern California.  We have trees up to about 7 feet tall.  They have gorgeous white flowers and the fruit (surrounding the bean) are red.  Also nice is they have shiny green leaves and make good house or patio plants.  Ideal for Coffee Trees is filtered light.  They have difficulty with full hot sun.  Below are pictures of young plants.  Although typically thought of as a tropical plant, Coffee can be grown in some temperate regions.

Coffee Tree coffee tree           Coffee Tree


We routinely have a great selection of rare Gingers. 
I personally prefer some of the very hardy Hedychium which give beautiful and fragrant blossoms, but we have all sorts of types.   Below is a picture of a beautiful variegated Ginger.  It only does fairly with cold weather.  It is known for its foliage, not the blossoms.  The Hedychium blossoms on the contrary are superb.  There are lots of tropical rainforest Gingers, and many can grow in Southern California.  We have five to six different types of ginger, some super-fragrant.  The last three photos are a favorite of mine, Hedychium gardnerianum.  Also note the thin "Pinstripe Ginger" known for its foliage.

Ginger ginger
Ginger variegate Shell Ginger Ginger, variegated Shell Ginger 
Hedychium ginger  Hedychium gardnerianum
Hedychium gardnerianum  Hedychium gardnerianum 
Blue Ginger Pinstripe Ginger 
Pinstripe Ginger  Blue ginger 


When weather warms up and they are in flower, we try to obtain and sell an assortment of Cannas.  The foliage dies back a bit during cold weather but come back strongly when it warms up.  The blossoms are very nice.  There are many colors and types available in season.  Shown below
is also a rare variegated lean Canna as well as the multicolored Canna tropicanna

Canny Lily

 Canna Lilly

 Canna Lily Canna variegated 
Canna tropicanna  Canna tropicanna 


From time to time we get in some flowering tropical trees.  This includes such types as Spathodea, Schizilobium, Tabebuia,
, and others.  Below is a Spathodea which gives gorgeous orange flowers and is easy to grow in Southern California.
The last photo is of the rare yellow colored Spathodea campanulata.  Also popular is the Fern Tree, Schizilobium.

Brachychiton Ficus dammaropsis 

                             Spathodea yellow


Most people know of the "Red Banana".  This is actually an Ensete, not a Banana.  Shown below are examples.  We presently have
the fruiting type of banana, Cavendish, available.     

Ensete ventricosum      


There are many types of this unusual plant.  It gets its name from the fact that emerging leaves swirl around the trunk in an ascending fashion, giving it a "screw" appearance.  Trunks tend to be shiny and appealing.  Some species survive in Southern California and can get up to 20 feet or more.  Many have large arial roots at the base making them a type of "stilt plant".  There are two species we particular recommend, Pandanus utilus and furcatas.   A small example of Pandanus odoritissima is pictured below, which also grows in our locality.  Unfortunately, there are many species which don't survive here.

Pandanus Pandanus utilus
Pandanus leaves Pandanus furcatus 
Pandanus utilus  


These succulent type plants are super colorful with blossom colors of the rainbow.  Colors range from white through yellow,
orange, red and then to purple.  Plants stay small and prefer filtered light.  I am showing both of these genera together as they
are quite similar in appearance.  We try to keep a good supply of these on hand and they are not expensive to buy.  

Kalenchoe  Kalenchoe  Kalenchoe 
Calendiva  Calendiva  Calendiva 


There are multiple species in the genus Dasylirion.  The most common is the Mexican Grass Plant It is a sun loving plant with long, tubular, round, thin leaves.  It looks much like a green "pom pom".  They will form a short trunk over many years and are quite cold hardy.   Although they appear to be a cycad, they are not.  We have two species of Daylirion available,
longissimum and wheeleri (blue plants, third photos below).


Mexican Grass Plant  Dasylirion Wikipedia
photo c/o Wikipedia 

Dasyliron wheeleri


These are not your mom's geraniums of the past.  These plants have big flowers in many colors.  They are hybrids which have been
developed for flower size and color.  Most are easy to grow, will take sun and have pretty good cold tolerance.  They are also wonderful
patio plants or in pots. 

Geranium  Geranium  Geranium 



This group of plants are a suckering plant with long, blade like leaves coming from the soil.  They are fairly cold hardy, don't take much water and prefer filtered light.  They are easily adaptable to interior environments and are slow growing.  There are various species in this group.  All are easy to grow.  It is not unusual to see plants with patterns on the leaves or variegation as shown.

SANSEVIERIA sanseveria
Sansevieria hallii Sansevieria hallii


This is a group of plants that has a wide range of appearance and are a very popular house plant.  Known as the Corn Plant, they are typically upright growers getting up to about 8 to 10 feet tall.  The "Lucky Bamboo" Plant is actually a form of Dracena.  The Dragon Tree plant described above is also a type of Dracena.  But, the most common types are similar to the ones below.  They have soft leaves and a thin vertical stem.  They are very popular as houseplants and leaf appearances are different among the varieties and hybrids.

Dracena  Dracena 


Known as the Brazilian Candles or "Many Flowers" plant, this species is a dwarf tree to six or eight feet.  It give
clusters of intensely colored red upright flowers.
  It is amazing for several reasons:  it blooms for about 8 months a
year and grows in the shade.
 So, it gives color in darker, understory areas.  This is rare!  We usually have the
15g size available.  This species is extremely hard to find at nurseries.

Pavonia multiflora Pavonia multiflora
Pavonia multiflora  


TOO SEE ANY OF THESE TROPICAL PLANTS just drop by the nursery.  We'll show you what we have in stock.

TO MAIL ORDER ANY OF THESE TROPICAL RAINFOREST PLANTS, just give us a call.  We can ship almost any size plants.

Thank you for reading about our tropical plant companion plants.  We try to maintain a good selection of colorful rainforest plants and
unusual items for the garden.  If you are specifically searching for an unusual or specific item, feel free to contact me.

Phil Bergman

Jungle Music Palms and Cycads
Phone: 619 291 4605
Nursery Location: 450 Oceanview Ave, Encinitas, CA 92024
Email:  Click Here



Nursery Photo                     tropical plants
Assorted succulents  Assorted color 









Nursery Location: 450 Ocean View Ave., Encinitas, CA 92024
Nursery Hours: 9AM - 4PM, Monday through Saturday
Phone: 619 291 4605
Email: phil@junglemusic.net

Last modified: February 27, 2016

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