5 of My Favorite Tropical Plants, Because Winter Is Dead to Me

5 of My Favorite Tropical Plants, Because Winter Is Dead to Me

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Rebecca Straus
Nov 19, 2018
(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

Most of the plants we grow in our homes come from the tropics. That's because, from a plant's perspective, our climate-controlled houses more or less resemble the year-round warmth of a jungle habitat. However, there are some universal challenges to growing tropical plants indoors, namely, humidity and water.

Jungle plants are used to high humidity, so they can have a hard time thriving in the dry indoor air of North American homes, particularly during the winter. To help increase humidity, you can place your plants on a tray of pebbles filled with water. This creates a pocket of humidity around your plant as the water evaporates (the pebbles are to prevent the plant's roots from rotting). You should also group several plants together, which will concentrate humidity as water evaporates from the plants' leaves (also known as the process of transpiration).

Tropical plants generally have similarly specific watering needs, too. They like soil that is slightly moist at all times, but not too wet. Many tropical plants are susceptible to root rot, which occurs when the roots spend too much time in a pool of water.

Follow these two key rules and you can grow most tropical plants successfully at home. To get started, here are five beautiful options that will look great in any home.

(Image credit: Photos by Gabor Schlosser)

Bromeliad

Nothing gives your home a sunny, tropical vibe like a bromeliad. These upright, spiky plants bloom in fiery reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows near the end of their life (but don't worry, they also produce new offspring for you to replant).

In the jungle, many bromeliads are epiphytic, meaning they grow by clinging to trees rather than in the ground. For this reason, they need very little soil—a potting mix designed for orchids (which are also epiphytic) is a good choice. You'll also need to be careful when you water as bromeliads hate standing water.

Begonia

Begonias are some the of most visually interesting plants you can grow indoors. There is virtually no end to options in leaf color and pattern. They grow natively in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.

Begonias can be a bit picky about light and water, making them an intermediate-level houseplant project. Primarily, you need to remember to use a soilless potting mix, keep the potting mix damp but not wet, and provide bright, indirect light.

(Image credit: Abby Stone)

Umbrella Plants

Umbrella plants are a great easy-care option if you want a large houseplant to add a serious dose of green to your decor. There are actually two closely related plants that generally referred to as umbrellas—Schefflera arboricola (native to Taiwan) and Schefflera actinophylla (native to Australia, New Guinea, and Java).

Like most jungle plants, umbrella plants prefer bright, indirect sunlight. They also like well-draining soil that's a bit more dry than wet.

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Prayer Plant

Prayer plants (Maranta leuconeura) grow natively in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. They have large, decorative leaves that rival begonias for color and pattern. At night, prayer plant's leaves curl in on themselves, as if in prayer. They reopen as the sun rises, sometimes with a soft rustle.

Care for prayer plants much like you would begonias. They prefer light shade—direct sunlight can scorch—and a mildly damp (but not wet) potting medium.

(Image credit: Melanie Rieders )

Elephant Ear

Elephant ear plants are named for their absurdly large heart-shaped (or elephant ear-shaped!) leaves. The common name "elephant ear" can refer to two related groups of plants, Colocasia and Alocasia. Both can be grown outdoors or indoors, though alocasias are more commonly grown as houseplants. Elephant ears grow natively in tropical and subtropical Asia, Polynesia, and Eastern Australia.

Elephant ears need a very large pot in order to fulfill their potential as delightfully massive houseplants. They prefer bright sunlight, though may become burned if the light is too harsh. Soil should say consistently moist but not wet.

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