Most tropical plants do not stand a chance of surviving in the British garden because of the cold winters. There are some species, however, from high-altitude tropical habitats that can be grown successfully in the British garden throughout the year. Others can be grown outdoors during the warmer months and overwintered indoors. Tropical plants add an exotic feel to the British garden and are well worth the extra effort involved in their care.
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The Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum) is a fast-growing species from the Ethiopian highlands with huge leaves and a bulbous stem. It can reach 40 feet but is usually about 12 feet high. Abyssinian bananas are hardy down to 2.22 degrees Celsius, but the leaves are killed by frost. In colder areas, the whole stem can be dug up before the winter and stored upright in breathable packing material in a cool place until spring. Cool Tropical Plants has detailed information on its website on the overwintering process.
Sago palms (Cycas revoluta) are from southern Japan and add an exotic touch to the British garden. The Floridata website states that they are hardy down to -10.6 degrees Celsius. Sago palms grow as a rosette of feathery leaves up to 5 feet long and will form a trunk up to 12 feet high. They require sunny conditions and well-drained soil.
The pindo or jelly palm (Butia capitata) is native to South America and is hardy down to -15 degrees Celsius, provided its roots do not freeze. It has arching, bluish-grey, feathery leaves up to 10 feet long and can reach 20 feet in height. Pindo palms produce bunches of edible, sticky, orange fruits called pindo dates. Well-drained soil and regular summer feeding will make pindo palms grow faster.
The canna lily (Canna indica) is a relative of the gingers and bananas originally from the tropical Americas. It forms clumps of large, upright leaves growing from creeping, underground rhizomes. The flowers come on straight spikes in a range of colours depending on the hybrid planted. Cannas grow well in sun or semi-shade and tolerate boggy soil. They will survive down to zero degrees Fahrenheit. provided their crowns are well mulched. The rhizomes can also be lifted and stored indoors over the winter in a cool, dry place.
The feijoa (Acca sellowiana) hails from South America and produces edible fruit and flowers, as well as being hardy down to -12.2 degrees Celsius. A shrub up to 15 feet high, the feijoa has small, egg-shaped leaves and pink flowers with a spicy taste that can be used in salads. The aromatic fruit are green and resemble a guava; they have an exotic flavour somewhere between a strawberry and kiwi with a hint of mint. Feijoa plants are not fussy about soil type but thrive in full sun.
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