Tropical-like plants are late-summer stars

Variegated tapioca. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Variegated tapioca. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

By Alan Owings, LSU AgCenter horticulturist

HAMMOND, La. – Many great plants perform well in summer and fall in Louisiana. Some that are tropical-like in appearance include esperanzas, Pride of Barbados, cassava and copper plants. All are low-maintenance in the landscape.

Esperanzas, also known by their scientific name of Tecoma, come with yellow flowers. But newer varieties can be orange, red and apricot colored. Esperanzas have been promoted as Texas Superstar plants. Bloom time is midsummer until first killing frost. The plant has a woody growth habit and is slightly taller than wide. Heights of 5-6 feet are common with widths of 4 feet.

When mulched well going into winter, they normally will return in following years in south Louisiana and portions of central Louisiana. But they are not cold-hardy in north Louisiana.

Pride of Barbados is a great, small-growing, tropical tree. You see more of these planted in Houston, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, than you do in south Louisiana, but we should use these plants more often. Whenever garden centers have them in stock, they sell very quickly. The scientific name of this plant is Caesalpinia.

Tecoma Bells of Fire. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Tecoma Bells of Fire. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Pride of Barbados plants usually are 5-8 feet tall by fall and start producing orangish-red flowers in midsummer. Stems are spiny, and foliage is fern-like. Because this plant is in the legume family, it sets seed pods similar to those on beans. Pride of Barbados is perennial in south Louisiana but will be an annual in north Louisiana.

Cassava is a tropical, shrubby perennial that also goes by the scientific name of Manihot. The variegated form is the one you generally see in landscapes. They are available at garden centers in summer.

Copper plants are great foliage plants for the summer and fall landscape. When planted in spring, these beautiful, tropical-looking, small shrubs turn into fabulous accent plants in color beds as we get later in to the growing season. They prefer long, hot days. They require full sun, limited irrigation and low fertility.

One of the old common copper plant varieties in Louisiana is called Louisiana Red. It has red foliage on a 5-foot-tall plant. Other varieties have bronze, green, yellow, bicolored and tricolored appearances. Heights vary from 2-6 feet at maturity in the fall.

You can find many new varieties. Copper plants can be perennials in zone 9A and south and annuals in zone 8B and north.

Princess flowers include several species. One of the lesser-known species is glory flower, also known as big leaf tibouchina. It has much larger foliage and larger flowers than the other commonly grown princess flowers. Considered a tropical or tender perennial, the plant is winter-hardy most years in USDA hardiness zone 9A, which is generally south of I-10/I-12. Purple flowers start in late summer and continue through fall. Plants can be easily rooted using softwood cuttings. A few garden centers in Louisiana sell this plant, which should be used more.

Another great species is Athens Blue tibouchina or dwarf tibouchina. We have been growing it at Hammond for five years, and it is a great landscape performer with profuse blooms from late spring through fall on 24- to 30-inch-tall plants. A new species of variegated-foliage princess flower from Asia is now available.

You may also want to try cassias, bananas, gingers, durantas (golden dewdrops), orchid trees and tropical hibiscus. All these plants perform well in Louisiana. Many are on sale at garden centers as we get into August and September. Most make nice container options for the short term and can really make a landscape show for fall garden parties around the patio and swimming pool.

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