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Tropical-Looking Plants: 10 Hardy Perennials & Shrubs That Look Tropical

10 Hardy Plants That Look Tropical | Want to create a lush, tropical looking garden but don't live in the tropics? Check out this list of hardy plants that look tropical (but aren't).
10 Hardy Plants That Look Tropical

There’s something about being in a garden surrounded by tropical plants that just makes you want to relax. Maybe it’s because you associate them with being on vacation on a tropical island. Or maybe all of those large colorful flowers and interesting leaves command so much attention that you forget about your problems for a little while.

In any case, wouldn’t it be great if you could re-create that feeling in your own garden? To achieve the look, you need a mix of stunning flowers and lush, large-leaved greenery, planted fairly close together to create a layered wall of plants. Add a water feature or two and you can have your own garden of paradise.

This list of hardy plants that look tropical will help you get started.

Hibiscus shrub (Hibiscus syriacus or Rose of Sharon)

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Hibiscus syriacus "Lil Kim"
Hibiscus syriacus “Lil Kim”

Zone: 5 to 9

Full Sun

Bloom Time: Late Summer to Fall (earlier in the South)

Height: 6 feet to 12 feet

Hibiscus syriacus "Blue Bird"
Hibiscus syriacus “Blue Bird”

Hibiscus syriacus or Rose of Sharon is a bush that has beautiful tropical-looking blooms. The flowers are usually 3″ to 4″ across and come in many different colors, including pinks, purples, blues, whites and reds.

Hibiscus syriacus "Sugar Tip"
Hibiscus syriacus “Sugar Tip”

This is a really low maintenance shrub that doesn’t require pruning, unless you want to keep the size down.

Hibiscus syriacus "Pink Chiffon"
Hibiscus syriacus “Pink Chiffon”

As an added bonus, it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, and is deer resistant.

Want to learn more about how to attract hummingbirds to your garden? Click here to see our post.

Perennial Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow)

Hibiscus moscheutos "Kopper King"
Hibiscus moscheutos “Kopper King”

Zone: 5 to 9

Full Sun

Bloom Time: Late Summer to Fall (earlier in the South)

Height: 3 feet to 6 feet

Perennial hibiscus has similar shaped flowers to the bush, but they can be more than twice as big, growing up to 10″ across. They have a more limited color selection (pinks, reds and whites) but the extra-showy flowers are worth it!

Hibiscus moscheutos "Fireball"
Hibiscus moscheutos “Fireball”

The perennial version requires more water than the bush, and dies down to the ground in the winter.

Bamboo (Phyllostachys)

Black bamboo in containers ©Matt Newman - stock.adobe.com
Phyllostachys nigra – Black bamboo ©Matt Newman – stock.adobe.com

Zone: 5 to 9

Full Sun

Bloom Time:

Height: 3′ to 20′ (depending on the variety)

Bamboo definitely gives that tropical look and zen feeling to your garden. It is another fairly easy to grow plant that pretty much takes care of itself.

The only caution with bamboo is that it can be quite invasive…so make sure that you either buy the clumping kind or grow it in a contained area (a large pot works well!)

Cold Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo)

Winter hardy Basjoo Banana plant
Winter Hardy Basjoo Banana Plant – Musa*

Zone: 5 to 9

Part Sun

Bloom Time: Summer

Height: 6′ to 14′

The hardy banana is considered winter hardy to zone 5 if well-mulched. Although it produces cream to yellow flowers in the summer, followed by inedible fruit, it is mostly grown for its large, tropical looking leaves.

In colder zones, it is a perennial that will die down to the ground in the winter.

It should be planted in a location that is protected from the wind, since the large leaves are susceptible to wind damage.

Passion Flower Vine (Passiflora)


Passion flower ©skymoon13 - stock.adobe.com
Passion flower ©skymoon13 – stock.adobe.com

Zone: 6 to 11

Full Sun to Part Shade

Bloom Time: Summer to fall

Height: 10′ to 15′

The passion vine is a very fast growing vine with large colorful flowers that can cover a screen in a summer. It requires regular watering but otherwise is fairly low maintenance.

Pay attention to the zones for the particular variety that you are looking at…some of them are only hardy in warm zones, while some only grow well in cooler areas.


Variegated hosta
Variegated hosta

Zone: 3 to 8


Bloom Time: Summer

Height: 2′

Hostas are another large-leaved perennial that can help turn your garden into a tropical-looking paradise.

They are low-growing and usually prefer the shade which makes them perfect for filling in the ground area under your other plants…and helps give that tropical feeling to your garden.

Hostas grouped together create a lush ground cover
Hostas grouped together create a lush ground cover

Group them together with other varieties of hostas and you will have a lush ground cover.

Want to find other compact shade plants? Click here to see our post.

Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus)

Agapanthus By Hedwig Storch, via Wikimedia Commons

Agapanthus By Hedwig Storch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Zone: 6 to 11

Full Sun

Bloom Time: Late Spring to Summer

Height: 2′ to 3′

Lily of the Nile produces beautiful blue balls of flowers on long flower stalks that will add some architectural interest to your garden.

It requires regular watering, and can be a little finicky to get started. But the flowers are so pretty it is worth a try!

Make sure to get a variety that is hardy in your gardening zone, since quite a few of them will only survive the winter in warmer areas.

Looking for more perennial plants with blue flowers? Click here to see our post.


Japanese Painted Fern and Ghost Fern
Japanese Painted Fern and Ghost Fern

Zone: 3 to 11

Shade to Part Sun

Bloom Time: N/A

Height: 2′ to 6′

There are so many varieties of ferns that you are sure to be able to find some that thrive in your garden. Most areas also have very pretty native ferns which are really easy to grow since they are so well adapted to the climate.

While most ferns are low growing and prefer shaded areas, you can also find large 6′ varieties and some that grow in full sun. So check your local nurseries to find the ferns that suite your situation the best.

Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris)

Climbing hydrangea
Climbing hydrangea

Zone: 5 to 9

Part Sun to Full Sun

Bloom Time: Summer

Height: 2′

Climbing hydrangeas have beautiful wide green leaves and bracts of white or pink flowers, and make a big show on a trellis, fence or wall. They cling to surfaces using aerial rootlets which makes them able to hang on to pretty much any structure.

Climbing hydrangea
Climbing hydrangea

They are a little tricky to get started (it will probably take 2 or 3 years). But once they get going, the show will be worth the wait.

Japanese Aralia (Fatsia japonica)

Japanese Aralia (Aralia japonica)

 Fatsia japonica, [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Zone: 7 to 9


Bloom Time: Fall

Height: 4′ to 12′

Japanese Aralia has huge leaves that are up to 12″ across and can grow to be quite a large plant.

With its size and lobed leaves, it almost looks like something out of the Jurassic Park movies…a perfect addition to your tropical-looking garden!

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10 hardy plants that look tropical

This post was originally published on June 29, 2016 but was updated with new content on September 15, 2022.

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  1. Hi, I have an existing established aucuba japonica and a wiegela in my back garden. I want to create a tropical garden. Would you remove these and opt for big planting, or keep them?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi…I think the aucuba japonica would work quite well with a tropical garden. The weigela could be a little harder to work in, so I might consider taking it out or moving it elsewhere. But I also think it depends on how much you like it 🙂

  2. Sylvia Torres says:

    I’m really loving what I see here

  3. Kerry Higman says:

    Is Fatsia Japonica related to the Castor family? It sure looks similar, both the leaves and the flower.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Kerry…Fatsia Japonica is sometimes called a false Castor plant because they look so similar. But I don’t think they are actually from the same family.