Two guests from tropical climates have been surprised by the diversity of plant life in my garden. The first was a visitor from
who spent a year here as part of a temporary career relocation. Unfortunately, she and her family had to endure the harsh, subzero winter. But when late May rolled around and she stopped by for a visit, she remarked, “Wow, this is every bit as beautiful as Hawaii .” Hawaii
I remember thinking, “Really?” And, “I suppose but it only lasts a few months.” Instead, I believe I said, “Why, thank you…” and we launched into a discussion about climates and plants and other such comparisons.
The second was a recent guest on a warm afternoon. She looked out into the backyard and said, “Wow, that looks tropical!” Coming from someone who grew up in the
Caribbean and travels back there frequently, the comment gave me pause.
I thought about the word “tropical.” Merriam-Webster defines tropical as:
1. Of, typical of, or peculiar to the tropics; or
2. Resembling the tropics, especially in being very hot and humid.
Well, the latter definition definitely fits during our current heat wave. And the
Midwest climate is definitely as lush and fertile as the tropics during the fleeting, lovely warm season.
Anyway, I got to thinking about the annuals we grow here—plants that are native to the tropics and that thrive here in the summer but die when the temperatures freeze. It must be nice to have some of these beauties as perennials:
- Common Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana). Native to
East Africa, these bright, summer annuals grow like bushes under the right conditions. Some botanical gardens plant them directly in the ground, although I tend to plant them en masse in pots with other annuals.
- Skyflower (Duranta erecta ‘aurea’). I recently discovered this plant because I was searching for chartreuse foliage for a potted arrangement. It’s native from
to Mexico South Americaand the Caribbean.
- Bleeding Heart (annual) (Fuchsia magellanica). How wonderful it would be to walk out into the woods and find this beauty growing in the wild. Native to Central and
South Americaand the Carribean, Fuchsia thrives in summer hanging baskets in warm Midwestern shade gardens.
- Common Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides). Sometimes Coleus foliage, alone, can be the standout in a potted arrangement. There are so many varieties of Coleus, each striking on its own, but especially vibrant when planted with other varieties. Coleus is native to tropical
- Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas). Another plant with stunning foliage, the ornamental Sweet Potato is available in several colors and forms. The chartreuse variety complements bright pink Impatiens and Bleeding Heart. Sweet Potato is native to tropical North, Central, and
We’re tropical here in the
Midwest, all right. At least as long as the summer lasts. I won’t say I look forward to winter, but I’m thankful most of our summer days hover around the 80s. And that we have a chance to appreciate some tropical plants as annual plantings.