Plain Gardening: Tropical Plants

Many times on Plain Gardening, we’ve talked with gardening expert Bill Finch about tropical plants and that they do well in our part of the world. This is their season.

In fact, Bill says if you DON’T use tropical plants, this time of year can bring big trouble. Most plants stop blooming because it’s so hot; even a lot of tropical plants don’t bloom now. But what tropical plants manage to do is amazing.

Here are some heritage tropicals that Bill says we don’t use enough of nowadays:

* Split-leaf philodendrons: They’re very hardy, even in winter. Some harsh winters may kill these plants to the ground, but they’ll bounce back as soon as things warm up again.

* Coleus: Great-looking plants with great names like wasabi, spiced curry, chipotle, and campfire. These use beautiful leaves instead of blooms to provide garden color.

* Cycads: While they’re distantly related to palms, Bill says these are much older, dating back to the era of the dinosaurs. While sago palm is the best-known cycad, there are lots of varieties, including some native to the Gulf Coast.

* Ginger: The leaves are nice, the flowers are pleasant and come out early, but the real star of the scarlet fever ginger is the bright red stem. There are tons of other great gingers, too.

* Agave: Many are variegated and can make a yard shine.

* Voodoo lily: Related to Jack-in-the-Pulpits. These are incredible; it’s another plant with a prehistoric look and a mind-boggling stem that resembles leopardskin or maybe snakeskin. And, of course, there’s the great name.

Some of these can be found in catalogs and on the internet, but Bill says he’s working to bring more of these to Mobile Botanical Gardens plant sales.

Learn more about great tropical plants on Bill’s radio show Sunday mornings from 9-11 on 106.5FM or email

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