11 Most Versatile Tropical Looking Plants For Cold Climates 

Many people think that tropical plants do not have excellent cold tolerance. They will most likely die or enter dormancy when growing in cooler climates. But what if we tell you that there are some versatile tropical looking plants for cold climates that survive in winter temperatures? Even some of them withstand temperatures that are colder than average winter.

Furthermore, they are also low-maintenance. Thus, making them easy to handle. You can easily create a lush tropical garden with these tropical-looking plants without worrying about frost damage. Interested in designing a tropical landscape with jungle-style plants? Check out some that will suit your outdoor space setting below!

Can You Grow Tropical Plants in Cold Climates?

Despite being challenging, growing tropical plants in colder climates are possible. Some of them are cold tolerant. Thus they can withstand low temperatures with minimal issues. However, you must determine the hardiness zones of each plant because they have different tolerances to cold temperatures.

Take dwarf palmetto as a great example. It is a cold hardy palm tree that can grow in the U.S. hardiness zones 6 to 10, meaning that it may suffer from cold winters in an earlier climate zone. The smaller the zone number, the more extreme the winter temperatures will be.

The Lowest Temperature Tropical Plants Can Tolerate

Generally, tropical plants love temperatures between 60°F to 65°F. Most of them cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 50°F. Such conditions may lead to frost damage that inhibits your plant growth. It will, especially, greatly influence the younger plants which have not been fully established. Some of the characteristics of frost damage shown are the appearance of brown patches on the leaves before they wither and die.

However, there are plants that look tropical and can survive low temperatures down to -30°F to -40°F. One of them is hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus Moscheutos) and maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum).

They thrive in the U.S. hardiness zones 5-8 and 3-8, respectively, which span the far northern parts with quite extreme winter temperatures. So, determining the lowest temperature that can be tolerated by tropical plants really depends on the type of plant.

How Do Tropical Plants Adapt To Cold Weather?

Although not all tropical plants can handle cold, some can survive growing in low winter temperatures. But how do they adapt to conditions outside the optimum temperature for their growth? They usually drop their leaves to reduce the evaporation process (transpiration). Thus, saving a lot of water from within the plant.

In addition, this way of adaptation also narrows the surface area that can be exposed to cold air. And instead of growing large leaves, they reduce the growth size and produce crowd foliage. It is beneficial to prevent free air circulation, which can potentially bring cold air, which may be damaging to the plants.

Hardy Tropical Looking Plants for Cold Climates

For those of you who live in the northern part of the U.S. but want to design a tropical garden, we have some tropical-looking plants for the cold climate you can try planting. They are versatile and easy to maintain, so you don’t have to worry about growing them outdoors.

Nonetheless, paying attention to the hardiness zone is crucial to ensure they happily thrive and survive in your garden. Check them out below!

1. Angel Wings (Caladium)

Caladiums or Angel Wings are among the favorite tropical plants in a tropical landscape design. It has heart-shaped leaves with a captivating pattern. The markings also vary, depending on the varieties. Some feature pink blotches, while others are simply white with dark green edges.

tropical looking plants for cold climates
Angel Wings (Caladium)

They grow in clumps, bearing 1 to 2.5 feet tall leaves. These native South and Central America plants naturally grow in tropical forests. Thus, they love warm and humid conditions.

Nonetheless, they thrive in the U.S. hardiness zones 5 to 11. Hence, caladium can easily withstand temperatures as low as 28°F or -2°C. When the temperature is too low, they will adapt by shedding their leaves before it goes dormant. You can also help warm these plants by providing a heater or taking them inside to prevent further damage. A basement is ideal for keeping the bulbs warm and humid.

2. Bamboo (Bambusa Vulgaris)

You cannot miss bamboo plants when it comes to creating a tropical landscape. They bear dense, dark green foliage with yellowish-brown stems that give the outdoor spot a unique tropical ambiance.

Besides, they are also fast-growing perennials that can grow up to one foot per day, providing you with a lush landscape typical for tropical forests. As tropicals, they favor temperatures around 60°F – 70°F.

tropical looking plants for cold climates
Bamboo (Bambusa Vulgaris)

But don’t worry! You can grow Bambusa vulgaris if you live in a cold area. They thrive well in a minimum temperature of 26°F or -3°C, a typical winter condition in the U.S. hardiness zone 9 to 12.

However, with extra protection, you can also grow bamboo in the U.S. hardiness zone 5. If you grow them in containers, make sure to add compost and wrap the pots in burlap. Mulching also helps keep the roots warm and moist in dry winter.

3. Beaked Yucca (Yucca Rostrata)

At first glance, maybe Beaked Yucca or Yucca rostrata looks like the same family as Agave. It bears sharp foliage with bluish-green shades that can grow up to 2 feet long. Once they are mature, their leaves will form an exquisite rosette which will become the focal point in your tropical garden.

Moreover, this tree-like tropical plant is slow-growing, taking around 10 years to fully flourish.

tropical looking plants for cold climates
Beaked Yucca (Yucca Rostrata)

Furthermore, this tropical-like plant prefers warm temperatures ranging from 65°F – 74°F. But fortunately, it is a winter plant that copes well in extreme cold! Beaked Yucca tolerates low temperatures up to -25°F or -30°C. They also thrive in the U.S. hardiness zones 5 to 11, covering a long list of states where they will survive just fine.

However, you must offer additional maintenance when the winter becomes too harsh. Try to wrap the containers with a fleece, sheet, or blanket to protect the roots. Add a gallon of hot water at the base before covering it to give the plant warmth.

4. Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.)

People cherish Coral Bells or Heuchera spp. for their unique foliage. The leaf shape is similar to maple leaves, with five more fuzzy internodes. Depending on the cultivars, they have attractive colors, such as red, yellow, lime, and even purplish.

Besides that, they also feature tiny bright, coral-painted flowers that mimic the size of a lily. With such features, it’s no wonder they save a position among the top lists of tropicals that must be included in a tropical garden.

tropical looking plants for cold climates
Coral Bells (Heuchera Spp.)

And the good news is you can grow Coral Bells outside of tropical climates. They can thrive in the U.S. hardiness zones 4 to 9, where temperatures reach -20°F or -28°C. However, they will enter dormancy when the temperature exceeds the minimum they can bear.

During this time, you can offer mulch to protect the roots. Add around 2 or 3 inches of compost, fallen leaves, and wood chips mixture to insulate the heat. You can move them indoors to the basement if you grow them in pots.

5. Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal Minor)

Along with banana plants, palm trees are one of the hallmarks of a tropical setting. Therefore, you will often see these trees in the tropical garden, among other tropical plants. Among the many types of palm trees, people love the Dwarf Palmetto or Sabal minor due to its mini size.

If they only have a narrow space, they can plant it in a pot without issues. Unlike other palms with long stalks, it bears fan-shaped, dark green blade leaves.

tropical looking plants for cold climates
Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal Minor)

For the growing conditions, Dwarf Palmetto is pretty cold and hardy. It survives low temperatures down to -5°F or -20°C. Thus, you can grow them in the U.S. hardiness zones 7 to 11 with no worries. Nevertheless, giving additional care is the best thing to avoid frost damage.

You can wrap the foliage by pulling the stalks and tying them. Some people also use 3 or 4 layers of burlap to cover the leaves. In addition, sticking heat tape around the trunk can be an alternative to maintain warmth.

6. Hardy Banana Plant (Musa basjoo)

You can safely say that the hardy banana plant is a tropical landscape icon. It features bright green, long, paddle-shaped foliage up to six feet long. Meanwhile, the leaves are about 2 feet wide. Besides being grown for stunning leaves, they also produce bright yellow flowers before later turning into inedible banana fruits.

When it reaches maturity, the hardy banana plant will grow up to 8.2 feet, offering shade to the plants underneath.

Hardy Banana Plant (Musa Basjoo
Source: Pinterest (@logees.com)

Bearing the name ‘hardy’, you can rely on Musa Basjoo to grow in the U.S. hardiness zones 5 to 10. It survives extreme cold winters, coping well at temperatures as low as -10°F or -23°C. As the temperature falls, you will notice they shed down to the rhizome to adapt to the environment.

To help them survive winter, you can cut the stems around 2 feet above the ground once the leaves start to die. Mulch the bed around the stems with shredded bark to conserve the roots and soil moisture. You can also put a chicken wire to protect the stems.

7. Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus Moscheutos)

Apart from leafy green plants, tropical settings are also synonymous with colorful shades from perennials. One of the tropical flowerings that are often the main attraction is Hardy Hibiscus or Hibiscus moscheutos.

Depending on the variety, trumpet-shaped flowers bear striking colors, such as magenta, red, orange, or yellow. Not to mention the long, emerging pistils and stamens from the center that decorate the petals with contrasting yellow colors, making them even more attractive.

tropical looking plants for cold climates
Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus Moscheutos)

Despite being a tropical plant that loves warm weather, Hibiscus moscheutos happily grows in cold climates. Specifically in the U.S. hardiness zones 5 to 8. They withstand low temperatures to -30°F or -34°C.

However, they need thick mulch to survive the cold, dry air. Cover the soil with 8-12 inches of shredded leaves or pine needles as mulch to protect the root balls through harsh winter months.

8. Hosta ‘Earth Angel’ (Plantain Lily)

Plaintain lily or Hosta ‘Earth Angel’ is a tropical plant valued for its stunning foliage. The surface looks like it was painted with green paint and yellowish cream, wavy edges. In addition, the veins seem embossed, giving an exquisite pattern that makes the plant more captivating.

The leaves also grow in a lump, forming a beautiful rose-like shape. In addition, this leafy plant can rise up to 3 feet tall, creating a focal point in your garden.

tropical looking plants for cold climates
Hosta ‘Earth Angel’ (Plantain Lily)

Considering these wonderful features, many are interested in growing Hosta ‘Earth Angel’. Despite loving to grow at 59°F to 72°F, this tropical can survive cold winters down to -15°F or -26°C.

It is great news for those who live in the U.S. hardiness zone 3 to 9 since they can grow plaintain lily in their outdoor space. To help them cope with the extreme winter, you can bury the pot in the soil to maintain moisture and keep the roots warm.

9. Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Pedatum)

Are you trying to find the best plants for the winter garden but want some tropical features? Maidenhair Fern or Adiantum pedatum may be your ideal pick. It grows dense fronds with a bright green color that brightens outdoor spots. Besides, these tropical plants are easy to grow, thanks to their spores!

People usually plant them in pots and hang them on the patio to make a beautiful appeal. Others love to grow them under trees to provide moisture to the roots. But how cold can Maidenhair Fern survive in freezing temperatures?

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Pedatum)
Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Pedatum)

Thankfully, this fern performs well in the U.S. hardiness zones 3 to 8, where the winter temperatures generally reach -40°F or -40°C. Although known as the most cold-hardy fern, they need protection against frost if the temperature goes down below what they can tolerate.

To prepare before the harsh winter, you can prevent damage by mulching the soil with aged bark wood and chopped leaves in the fall. It also benefits the plant by keeping the ground warm during the season.

10. Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata)

Suppose someone asks, “what tropical-looking plants for cold climates do you recommend?”. In that case, we assure you that most of them will answer passionflower! Passiflora incarnata features unique, showy, magenta flowers with pinkish-purple filaments and white centers.

The green leaves make an excellent green background that highlights the blooms as the real stars. You can also expect edible yellow fruits ready to be harvested in the summer, around July.

Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata)
Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata)

Being a hardy winter plant, it’s not tricky to grow passion flowers in your garden. They thrive in the U.S. hardiness zones 6 to 11 with temperatures as low as -5°F or -20°C. Some also argue that this tropical flower can survive winter in zone 5!

However, some protective measures must be applied. Despite being a versatile plant, you must provide 2 or 3 inches of mulch with a mix of leaves and wood around the base. It is crucial to prevent root damage through severely low temperatures.

11. Umbrella Plant (Darmera Peltata)

Last but not least, we have the Darmera peltata or Umbrella Plant! As the name suggests, this tropical-looking plant has a broad leaf shape, like an umbrella, that protects the underside from water and sunlight.

The leaves are bright green, so they are suitable to be one of the plants that characterize a tropical setting in your garden. They are usually planted near water features, like ponds and streams, because they need moisture to grow.

Umbrella Plant (Darmera Peltata)
Umbrella Plant (Darmera Peltata)

Even though it looks fragile to freezing weather, Umbrella Plant is cold-tolerant. It performs well in the hardiness zone 5 to 7, where the winter temperatures can fall to 0°F or -18°C. However, it may start shedding the leaves to the ground if the weather is icy. But don’t worry!

They just go dormant. You can offer leaves or straw mulch to help the plant regulate heat in the soil. It is vital to keep the temperature warm for the roots. Mulching is also useful for locking moisture in the dry winter.

Final Thought

Surprisingly, some tropical plants or tropical-looking plants can survive low winter temperatures, despite loving warm and humid conditions. However, protection must still be prioritized to prevent frost damage. One of the popular methods to keep plants thriving during the season is mulching. It helps to maintain soil moisture since most tropicals love damp soil.

Besides that, this method works well to keep the roots warm. So, when they wake up from dormancy, the plants will quickly get back on track to grow in spring.


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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can tropical plants survive a freeze?

Most tropical plants cannot withstand cold winter temperatures. They will likely suffer from frost damage, characterized by wilt, yellowing foliage. However, some tropical looking plants for cold climates can survive colder climates. Some examples are hardy banana plants, hardy hibiscus, coral bells, and yucca.

To ensure they thrive well in such harsh conditions, you must ensure their hardiness zones. Each of these zones has a minimum plant temperature that is recommended to grow within the areas.

Will tropical plants come back after a freeze?

If you have tropical plants that cannot tolerate cold temperatures, they will likely be dormant during the winter. Luckily, you can revive them in spring as long as the tissue is still alive. You need to scratch the bark to check whether the tissue is still green or not. The green one indicates that they will return fine in the warm season. However, they usually will only survive the winter if the exposure to cold weather is short.

Can bougainvillea survive a freeze?

Bougainvillea, unfortunately, is not a cold hardy tropical plant. The flowers cannot survive the winter freeze as the minimum temperature is only 10°C. They usually freeze to the ground during the colder months but happily thrive in the spring once the temperatures get warmer.

During the freezing weather, you can provide extra protection by mulching. It will help prevent the roots from freezing. Thus, helping him come back in the springtime.

How do you keep tropical plants warm in the winter?

Generally, tropical plants cannot survive freezing night in the fall or winter. Therefore, extra maintenance and protection are necessary to prevent frost damage. To keep the roots warm, you can mulch them with wood chips, bark, fallen leaves, or straws. It also works to maintain soil moisture.

If you don’t have mulch, you can wrap the pots with layers of fabric or bubble wrap to insulate the heat. If your plants still suffer from low temperatures, take them indoors.

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