6 Tropicals with Fantastic Foliage


Tropicals are trending this summer, from natural nursery specimens to leafy prints on picnic plates and outdoor pillows. We love the remarkable array of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors that can be found in forests around the world, from towering palms to striking Staghorn ferns. Today, we're embracing the tropical trend with 6 of our favorite leafy greens. 

1. Monstera (Monstera deliciosa): Native to the tropical rainforests of Central America, this ornamental favorite can grow to an impressive 30 feet high. It takes the name "Monstera" from its striking scale, while "deliciosa" refers to its edible fruit, which tastes like a mix of banana, mango, and pineapple. This flavor combination lends Monstera the nickname "fruit salad plant." Other gardeners might know this tall tropical as the "Swiss cheese plant," a reference to its unusual leaves. The leathery, heart-shaped leaves are solid when young, but develop unique perforations as they mature. 

2. Java Staghorn Fern (Platycerium willinckii): Easy to care for, the Java Staghorn is an excellent choice for cultivating at home. Native to the island of Java, this Staghorn is notable for the contrast between its tall, deeply lobed shield fronds and whitish-green fertile fronds. The fertile fronds may develop long, finger-like lobes, offering an exceptionally dramatic shape that differentiates this variety from other Platycerium

3. Australian Fan Palm (Licuala ramsayi): Native to rainforests in the Australian state of Queensland, this fan palm produces remarkable leaves that can reach 6 feet in diameter in its natural habitat. The circular leaves are made up of wedge-shaped segments, with around 9-12 leaves per tree. This slow-growing palm is uniquely adapted to its tropical environment; the large surface of the leaf absorbs sunlight, while the segmented shape allows air flow to carry heat away from the plant and weather windy conditions. 

4. Staghorn Fern (Platycerium superbum): Another Australian native, this giant epiphyte grows on trees and rocks in the lowland rainforests of Queensland and New South Wales. Each fern attaches to a tree with a "nest" frond, which collects falling leaves and insects that provide the plant with nutrients. Branching, antler-shaped fronds extend up to 6 feet, making this variety a stunning ornamental for large spaces.

5. Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic'): Playfully named for the shape of its leaves, this fast-growing foliage plant features deep purple leaves and stems. Also known as "Black Magic Taro," this showy tuber is native to tropical regions of Asia and can be grown in up to 6" of standing water. When grown in its preferred wet soil conditions, its richly-colored foliage can reach 3-6' tall. 

6. Parasol Palm (Licuala orbicularis): A petite palm with show-stopping leaves, this short-stemmed tropical grows in the lowland rainforests of Borneo. Its pleated, circular leaves can reach 30" in diameter. A popular ornamental variety, it is also harvested from the wild by Malaysian locals. The fronds are used for roof thatching, hat-making, cooking, and even as impromptu umbrellas. 

Photography credits: 1. Tobias Ziegler; 2. Ryan Somma; 3. tanetahi; 4. Tristan Loper; 5. Jungle Rebel; 6. Joan Simon

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