Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tough tropicals

Okay, I admit that I might have slightly underestimated the toughness of tropical plants. At least some tropical plants. Specifically, the ones in my yard.

I have always admired the lush beauty of tropical plants when they graced other people's gardens, but I had pretty much managed to avoid adding them to my garden - until last summer when I finally succumbed to their siren song.

It may have all started with that banana tree that my neighbor gave me at the end of winter. The tree did well and added such texture and a touch of the exotic to my yard that I decided perhaps I could venture further into the tropical field and add a few others that I had seen in gardens around the area. Thus, during the summer, I added things like poinciana, jatropha, bauhinia, and a couple of hibiscuses. I even got a plumeria, a plant I had long coveted.

Then, along came winter, and I sadly admitted the error of my ways as I looked at all my dead plants. I promised myself that in future I would only plant natives and the long-acclimated tough old standards. Although most of the plants were "dead" though, I didn't remove any of them which, as it turned out, was a prescient move on my part.

As spring followed winter, I took inventory. The plumeria had been in a pot and I brought it inside before it got really cold, so, although it lost most of its leaves during the winter, it survived and was now growing new leaves and asking to be let outside again.

The two hibiscus plants, likewise, were still in pots, but I had not protected them prior to the first freeze, after which I did put them in the garage. One of the plants appeared to be toast, but the other one was still green, although it had lost some leaves.

Like the hibiscus plants, the bauhinia was in a pot and had been brought into the garage after the first freeze, when it appeared to be too late for it. It sat there all winter without water or sunlight.

The other plants had been in the ground outside and looked dead, dead, dead. In the spring, I pruned them back to the ground but left them in place.

As the weather warmed, I set the plumeria outside in a protected spot and decided to plant both of the hibiscuses in a new bed I had created on the south side of the house, where they, too, would be somewhat protected. Yes, I planted them both, including the one that looked dead.

Then, I remembered the bauhinia tucked away in a corner of the garage. I pulled it outside and found to my great astonishment that it was alive and growing sprouts from its roots. I quickly pruned off the dead wood, thoroughly watered it, and set under the sycamore tree's dappled shade. It has rewarded me with more healthy green growth.

Meanwhile, the hibiscus that I thought was dead had sprung to life, too, and, finally, I glanced at 'Pride of Barbados', the poinciana, one day and realized that it, also, was growing sprouts from the roots.

And now, yet another of the "tropicals" has risen from the dead. The jatropha is sending up new growth from its roots.

Of course, all of these plants are still at a fragile stage in their growth - except for the plumeria and that one hibiscus, both of which scarcely missed a beat - so I don't know what their performance will be in the coming weeks. Will they thrive and bloom well this summer and fall? I don't know, but I'm not inclined to underestimate them any more.

Their labels may only indicate that they can withstand temperatures as low as 40 degrees, but I know better!
These tough tropicals have inspired me. I'm looking around for others that I can add to my garden this summer.

Oh, and that old ficus tree in the big pot under the oak tree - the ficus tree that was completely frozen in the early December freeze and later left for dead in my garage? There are now tiny little green bits growing up from the base of its trunk.

Frankly, it all reminds me of my favorite movie about gardening - WALL-E, in which green is triumphant and will not be denied! I'll try to remember that the next time I get discouraged about my garden.


  1. It was fun to read your post with the names of plants from my south Florida yard. I'd love to have a jatropha again but our part of the Hill Country will have freezes too hard.

    What kind of bauhinia do you have?

    We have lots of pride of barbados. They normally die back in winter. I don't usually see sprouts until June.

  2. Mine is a red bauhinia, although I am not entirely sure of the species name.

    We had temperatures in the teens for four consecutive nights in early January and, after that, continuous cold until the end of February, so these plants were tested. I am delighted to see that they appear to have passed the test.

  3. Is this it: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/58957/ ?

    We have the native Anacacho orchid tree, (Bauhinia lunarioides) that blooms white, with a fragrance of vanilla. Might be my favorite of our 20 species in the yard.

  4. Could be. Mine was new last year and hasn't bloomed yet. I'll know more once I see a bloom - if I ever do!