In a tropical rainforest, the air is cool and humid. Leaves rustle everywhere, vines blow in the breeze and colorful birds dart in and out among the lush green foliage.
You can capture some of this tropical beauty and incorporate it into your landscape by:
Tropical rainforests always have a wide variety of plants. They grow to different heights and come in every shade of green that you can imagine. These plants also have different types of leaves, including broad leaves, narrow fronds and the lacy leaves of ferns.
You can achieve a tropical effect in your landscape by mixing a variety of foliage. Here are a few plants to get you started:
- Philodendron xanadu – The philodendron xanadu enjoys full sun or partial shade and grows 50-80cm tall. It is a compact plant with glossy, lobed leaves.
- Molineria capitulata – Also called palm grass, molineria capitulata send up narrow, coarse leaves directly from their roots. They like shade and grows up to 1m tall.
- Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’ – Myersii, sometimes also called foxtail ferns, have bright green, needle-like leaves and can tolerate full sun or partial shade. They only grow 60-80cm tall.
Making room for vines
About 90% of the world’s vines grow in rainforests. They climb up tree trunks, dangle from branches and play an important part in filtering sunshine through the forest’s canopy.
Adding a few vines, such as those listed below, will help your landscape look like a genuine tropical rainforest.
- Philodendron Anderson’s Red – This shade-loving philodendron climbs whatever is closest to it. Its large leaves start out yellow with light pink undersides and then darken to a deep jade green as they mature.
- White potato creeper- Green and healthy even in the sunniest spots, white potato creepers quickly twist themselves around everything and produce small white flowers all through the heat of summer.
- Vanilla Vine – The vanilla vine is actually a climbing orchid that needs partial shade. Once it is well established, it will produce light green or yellow blossom on a regular basis, but it won’t produce vanilla pods unless it is hand pollinated.
Thousands of different plants grow in rainforests. They grow close together and form three distinct levels: groundcover, mid-storey and canopy.
As you create a tropical landscape, use plants of different heights to replicate the three levels of a rainforest. You should also plant your plants close together or use plants that form dense clumps, such as these:
- Strelitzia nicolai – Strelitzia nicolai have large, broad leaves and form dense clumps which look similar stands of banana plants. They love sunshine and grow up to 6m tall.
- Dracaena surculosa punctulata – Slow-growing and hardy, this type of dracaena resembles bamboo. It eventually grows into a clump of jointed stems and elongated leaves. It needs some shade and grows between 1-3m tall.
- Cordylines – Cordylines come in many varieties. Their leaves range in color from black to red, as well as various shades of green. They do well in sun or partial shade and grow about 1m tall.
Adding tropical colors
Parrots, macaws, toucans and wild canaries are just a few of the birds that add vibrant colors to rainforests. Although we can’t keep these birds in our landscapes, we can add colorful plants and eye-catching flowers in among the greenery to imitate them.
Here are some plants to consider:
- Pleiostachya pruinosa – The long, broad leaves of the pleiostachya pruinosa generally stand straight up and display their attractive purple undersides. This plant needs some shade and grows almost 2m tall.
- Tricolour stromanthe sanguinea – The stromanthe is a short plant, growing no more than 100cm tall, but it puts on a dramatic show with its red, white and green leaves. It requires partial or full shade.
- Angel Wing Begonia – The angel wing begonia has white spotted leaves all year round and bright red or pink blossoms in the warmer months. It grows 50-80cm tall and needs shade.
- ‘Golden Hahnii’ Sansevieria Trifasciata – Similar to ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’, golden hahnii have stiff, narrow leaves that are green in the middle and edged with bright yellow. Hahnii enjoy sun or shade and grow about 80cm tall.
Including a water feature
In rainforests, it rains almost every day. The rainwater drips off of leaves, runs to gurgling streams and then joins rushing rivers that crash over waterfalls.
You can add the sight, sound and smell of running water to your tropical landscape by including a water feature. The downside to water features is that they use both electricity and water which can increase your utility bills. Thankfully, there are simple ways that you can make a water feature economical and eco-friendly, for instance:
- Instead of plugging your water feature’s pump and lights into an outlet, use solar panels to create the electricity that they need.
- Make it a point to choose a water feature, such as a fountain, waterfall or creek, that recirculates water.
- Invest a little bit more time and money to install a water feature that captures and recycles rainwater.
- If you decide to incorporate a pond or pool of water in your water feature, take steps to decrease evaporation. One way to do this is cover the surface of the water with aquatic plants.
If you decide not to install a real water feature, consider designing a dry one. Dry water features don’t have the sound or smell of water, but most of them are easy to build, simple to maintain and beautiful. Here are some popular ways to create a dry water feature:
- Use natural river rocks to create a dry stream that winds its way through your landscape.
- Plant cascading plants, such as acalypha herzogiana with its dark green leaves and red flowers, in a birdbath or a clay pot fountain.
- Install stair step flower planters. Plant tall plants in the highest planter and then plants with descending heights in the lower ones to create a downward flow that resembles a waterfall.
We hope these tips for adding tropical beauty to your landscape will make your yard a place to relax and refocus your mind on the beauties of nature.