Bird of Paradise - Illustration by Helen KrayenhoffWith summer on the way, my thoughts wander to tropical plants. As the sun reaches higher, milder nights and longer days mean that many plants of tropical origin begin to really show off. I am not able to grow many of these exotic beauties in my garden, but the nice thing about working here is that I can enjoy the flora of the Upper Amazon, Southeast Asia or Northern Australia, all within the city block that is Berkeley Hort.

My practical side usually focuses on CA natives, Mediterraneans and the like. But oh those tropicals; lush, voluptuous, flamboyant and somehow dangerous, not as in causing bodily harm but in a more visceral way. It’s as if I’m thinking maybe the stars will align, the sun will shine, the wind will cease and my patience will be rewarded by flower clusters on the Plumeria. Each year I succumb to this plant lust and make room for one or two previously unheard-of subjects.

Tropical doesn’t necessarily mean impossible. Coastal Californians can get just about anything to survive, but thriving or flowering is another story. The best advice to gardeners who are unwilling to set up greenhouses, humidity management or bottom heat is to make plant selections from higher elevation zones or drier climes. These generally exhibit a more ‘temperate climate’ appearance, and are less likely to suffer when our weather doesn’t cooperate.

Here’s a short list of personal favorites for providing a tropical effect without the hassle.

  • Agave attenuata   Fox Tail Agave
  • Anigozanthus spp.  Kangaroo Paw
  • Beschorneria yuccoides  Beschorneria
  • Brugmansia X candida  Angel’s Trumpet
  • Cycas revolute  Sago Palm
  • Hedychium gardnerianum  Kahili Ginger
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis  Tropical Hibiscus
  • Jacaranda mimosaefolia   Jacaranda
  • Livistonia australis  Fan Palm
  • Melianthus major  Honey Bush
  • Phoenix roebelenii  Pygmy Date Palm
  • Strelitzia reginae  Bird of Paradise
  • Trachycarpus fortunei  Windmill Palm

Look for these and more in our Tropical Courtyard just south of the sales area.