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Indiana Rick

Hardy Tropicals for Zone 5
(The plants on this page I grow in my Indiana yard. Some are permanently in the ground and others I overwinter in the garage)

Pictures and accounts of Tropicals that have survived Indiana Zone 5a winters
Pictures of Tropicals overwintered in my unheated garage
"I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself . . . at least three times." - Tony Advent (PDN)
"This all started with some turtles and a large backyard" - Brian Williams (Brian's Botanicals)
"I suspect that this species is hardy throughout zone 6 and will likely survive with defoliation even in zone 5" - Dr. David Francko
"I was even forced to work during the cruel Florida winters!" - Boca Joe Seamone (Boca Joe)
"As a sexagenarian with aches & pains my greatest affliction remains to be zone envy" - Indiana Rick (Pics)



Chinese Windmill Palm
Trachycarpus fortunei

This native of China is also commonly referred to as the Windmill Palm, since its stiff, perfectly symmetrical leaves often vibrate in the breeze, looking a bit like they're spinning. This is one of the most commonly planted palms in all over California, on up to Washington, and some are growing in Vancouver, Detroit, and Chicago.  This palm prefers cooler growing conditions with afternoon shelter from the sun and winter winds.  Although winter protection is critical when young Trachycarpus will become more winter hardy each year.  It forms a wonderfully 'hairy' fibrous trunk, but once over about 20', the fibre starts to fall off exposing a trunk of only 4-6" in diameter. It is one of the faster growing palms at 12" per year, though most would still consider it a slow growing plant.  It benefits from ample water and fertilizer.  Officially hardy to Zone 6b, but people are having luck with them in the Midwest.


Hayes Stiff Windmill Palm
Trachycarpus 'Hayes Stiffie'

Trachycarpus (Hayes Stiffie) is a very hardy palm tree being grown in Alabama. Most believe this may be a hybrid cross between T. Wagnerianus x T. Fortunei. The leaves are stiffer and hold themselves much different than the other forms. Their are many other small details and interesting characteristics that make this plant unique which leads palm experts to believe that it is a true hybrid or very odd form of Trachycarpus. When grown near other Trachycarpus Fortunei, the differences are quite apparent. In Louisville, seedlings have been taken down to 0°F to -5°F when very young and the pots they were in were frozen solid. When spring arrived the seedlings were all still green and alive. Not a single one was lost to the extreme cold.  With other Fortunei you can usually tell when the plant is being stressed by the cold from the leaf damage, but this hybrid maybe far more cold hardy than any other variety or form.  This form is also reported to be a faster grower than other Trachycarpus.




Japanese Fiber Banana
Musa 'Basjoo'

Musa Basjoo is the hardiest of all bananas, cold hardy to -20°F degrees when mulched properly.   In warm weather months it can grow up to 2 feet in a week. It's mature height is 18'. It can flower and bear fruits at 10' or whenever it has 35 leaves. The bananas are not edible. This handsome broad leaved variety can be grown in almost every state if the ground is mulched properly in the very cold months. At 40 degrees it will stop actively growing and at 28 degrees the leaves will die back and the tree can be cut back to a 2'or 3' height. It will grow back rapidly as the warmer season approaches.  The leaves can be used to wrap foods like fish and corn to be placed on the grill.



Mekong Giant Banana Tree
Musa xishuangbannaensis 'Mekong Giant'

Mekong Giant is a cold-hardy giant banana from China.  One of its attractions is its height which can reach 40' in mild climates, but up-to 15' in one temperate growing season.  A second feature is its reddish-purple trunk. The flowers are also quite large and sometimes 2' long.  If you grow Basjoo, you can probably grow Mekong Giant as they are similar in hardiness.  Brian Williams has grow Mekong in the ground for over nine years in Louisville Kentucky which is Zone 6.  Although tall, Mekong Giant is an understory tree in nature and would probably appreciate some dappled shade.  The large rhizomes underground contribute to its hardiness and also will reward the gardener with "pups"


Japanese Umbrella Pine
Sciadopitys veticillata

OK.. maybe this isn't a tropical but OMG if you've ever seen one and, more importantly, noticed that it will grow in Zone 5 you know it is a "must have" for a hardy tropical landscape.  Endemic to Japan, this conifer gets its name from the umbrella-like whorls of needles that grow at the ends of the branches. It is the sole member of both its genus and its family - a living fossil with no close relative, although it was once included in the bald cypress family. The prefix "sciado" means shadow, and "pitys" means pine.  The epithet "veticillata" means whorls.  While considered a moderately fast growing evergreen it is much slower in growth when young.  A ten-year-old tree may be only 4 or 5 feet tall. The slow growth rate coupled with the fact they are somewhat rare means you will pay a hefty price for a nice specimen.  Mature trees can reach 30 feet and tend to develop an open habit.  Although not the main attraction, Sciadopitys will develop cones 2 to 4 inches long that produce seeds after about 18 months. This tree is considered low maintenance, requiring only average water when established.  It prefers full-sun to part sun with afternoon shade.  If growing in Zone 5 a site sheltered from the Winter winds is recommended.  Although the thick needles are the main attraction, the reddish-brown bark also draws attention.  There are now a number of cultivars available that offer different shades of green and yellow, along with dwarf and variegation options. 


Beaked Yucca
Yucca rostrata

Yucca rostrata is a Texas Native in the southwestern portion of the state, it is also native to Mexico. This is one of the most beautiful of the Yucca's with a 6-12' tall trunk and stunning blue-green foliage. Yucca rostrata is slow growing but it is one of the most cold hardy of the tree-like Yucca's, tolerating negative digits. The foliage is soft and undulating but still is needle-pointed as are most Yuccas. The name rostrata means beaked, it gets this name because the seed is reminiscent of a bird's beak. Beaked Yucca is a great addition for any Xeriscape or WaterWise Landscape as it requires very little water. To establish plants you should water them one or two times a month in the winter, depending on the temperature and how fast the soil drains and soak them at least once a week in the summer. In the winter established plants will only need water once a month and will need a heavy weekly soaking during the summer. Beaked Yucca flowers are white and form flower stalks that rise above the plant. Plants will do best in a full sun location.



Big Bend Yucca
Yucca rostrata 'Saphire Skies'

Yucca rostrata 'Saphire Skies' is from northern Mexico and western Texas.  Is was developed by in the 1990s by selecting the most power blue of select seedlings.  Although the usually single-stemmed tree will reach 15' tall in nature it is slow growing to about 4' in 10 years which makes large specimens quite pricey, plus they hare heavy and expensive to ship.  The 2 foot long leaves on Saphire Skies are much softer than regular Rostrata and not quite as likely to poke out an eye.  A warm sunny location with good drainage is a must and the plant will probably benefit from some limestone amended to the soil.  Saphire Skies is easily hardy to 0°F and has survived in Zone 5 with some protection on the crown from moisture.


Scrub Palm
Sabal minor 'McCurtain'

These seedlings were grown from an extremely vigorous natural stand of Sabal minor in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, just west of Folsom, Arkansas, near the Red River. According to the late Logan Calhoun (the seed source), seedlings of this population have survived temperatures of -24° F in Wichita Kansas and are producing seed. These will be great for experimental Zone 5 gardeners who like to push the hardiness limits. This particular strain will grow much faster than normal Sabal minors.


Dwarf Palmetto, Swamp Palmetto
Sabal minor

Sabal minor, is not a fast growing plant, and grows abundantly in pine tree forests, and in poorly drained lowlands, that are under water periodically. It also grows well in very heavy shade in the South, but does better in the sun up North. Native to the Southeastern US, this palm grows small trunks that remain hidden behind the leaves. The flower stalk grows four to six feet, and white flowers grow into one-half inch, black fruit. Leaves will stand up to 5 feet tall in the North.  One of the hardiest palms, Sabal minor has survived -10°F temperatures but requires some sheltering to survive in Zone 5.  Does not do well in pots because of the huge subterranean trunk and roots.


Needle Palm
Rhapidophyllum Hystrix

From the southeastern US, the Needle palm is generally considered the hardiest of the palm species.  They easily survive zone 6 winters with no damage whatsoever, and will toughen-up over time in zone 5.  Usually the palm forms a large clump of 6 to 8 feet in height and width slowly over time.  Some will actually develop a 4' single trunk that is really a crown of old dead stems.  The palm gets its name from the very long and sharp needles (up to 10") around the base that guard the seeds, hence this palm is harder to find than others  It is also very difficult to dig up for the same reason, however it freely produces suckers that can be dug up to start a new plant.  Needle palms will grow virtually anywhere so they are a good choice for hard to fill shady areas.  They will even tolerate sites prone to flooding.


Bonfire Patio Peach Tree
Prunus 'Bonfire'



Hardy Kiwi
Actinidia arguta 'Meader' (male)
Actinidia arguta 'Anne' (female)



Giant Elephant Ear
Colocasia Gigantea

This huge species, from Thailand and surrounding countries, is a cousin to Alocasia. It can grow to a massive size over 9 feet tall. The leaves can reach up to 4 feet wide and around 5 feet long. The whole plant has a light bluish green coloring. The leaves forms some mutated growths under the leaves which are hard to describe but similar to small leaves attached to the underside of the large leaf. The flowers come out in brackets, usually 3 to 5 flowers or more at a time, with white spaths. This is a very unique plant. This plant has survived zone 6 for the last 3 years (in Louisville) with nothing but 5 to 8 inches of mulch for protection.  In the right micro-climate this Elephant Ear might survive a Zone 5 winter left in the ground.


Elephant Ear - Pink China
Colocasia Pink China

This elephant ear is reportedly as hardy as Musa Basjoo (the Japaneses Fiber Bannana) and it looks great planted under the banana tree.  The plant has medium green leaves, but it is easily identified by the pink dot in the center of the leaves.  The stems also are very pink in color at times, but not quite so bold at other times.  The tubers spread like crazy and one plant may easily turn into 25 in one summer.  This is a must have for anyone trying to grow tropicals in cold zones.  It has easily survived several Zone 5 winters here with no protection, although the survivors to get quite as big as the ones overwintered in a garage which can achieve 5 to 7 feet in height.  This elephant ear really multiplies in the sun, but it will do just fine in part shade and actually have better color.


Crape Myrtle Dynamite
Lagerstroemia indica 'Whit II'  (Dynamite)

 Dynamite was developed by Carl Whitcomb, a horticulture professor at Oklahoma State University who gave up on academia to pursue a career as a nursery consultant and inventor. Whitcomb has patented several items used widely in the nursery industry.  Dynamite was one of Whitcomb's first entries in the field of plant breeding and has become his most successful. Dynamite was developed by using a chemical mutigen to force changes at the gene level. The occasional flecks of white in the petals are an indication that there may be vestiges of a chimeral background in the plant.  As a crape myrtle Dynamite is considered one of the best because of the bright red flowers and its superior powdery mildew resistance. Like all crapemyrtles, it has outstanding drought tolerance. 

Up to zone 7, Dynamite can be grown as a deciduous tree or shrub reaching 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide where it will withstand temperatures down to -5°F.  In Zone 5/6 gardens, with proper mulching,  it can be grown as a die-back perennial much like a Butterfly Bush. 

Since flowering, which occurs from July until frost, is on new-wood only, Dynamite can develop into a lush flowering 4 - 5 foot shrub in one summer even if it is cut back to the ground each Winter.  Use a foliage fertilizer in the Spring and stop fertilizing altogether before Fall.

Crape Myrtle Pink Velour
Lagerstroemia indica 'Whit III'  (Pink Velour)


 Whit III was originally marked as Royal Velvet, but is now know as Pink Velour.  It is the first crape to have deep wine-colored foliage.  As the thick, leathery, leaves age they become purplish green and very dark - almost evergreen azalea-like, and turn orange in the fall.  The striking foliage provides a nice contrast and background to the bright pink flowers.  Pink Velour is a smaller crape than most and only reaches about 10 foot making it a nice landscape-size tree or shrub.  Like all Whitcombs it is resistant to powdery mildew and grows best when not indiscriminately pruned in the fall.  For this reason and its small size, Pink Velour is a good candidate to dig in zones 5 and 6 and store in a garage or other area that stays above 10° - 20° F or so.


Crape Myrtle Sioux
Lagerstroemia (indica x fauriei) 'Sioux"


 Sioux is one of 20-some Crapes developed in the early 1960s by Dr. Donald Egolf at the U.S. National Arboretum.  It is a cross of indica and fauriei the latter of which was from germplasm collected in Japan The fauriei contributed to a powdery mildew resistance and a dark brown trunk color.  Sioux can be grown as a 13 foot bush or a 20 foot tree, but probably much lower in the North.  The flowers are medium pink and the foliage turns red-purple in the fall.  Sioux is reliable in zone 7, but should be root hardy in zone 6 and probably zone 5 with ample protection.  It has been know to survive zone 5 winters planted in a whiskey barrel against the south wall of a house.


Crape Myrtle Purple
Lagerstroemia indica 'Catawba'

 ‘Catawba', is one of the best purple flowering, Crape Mytrle selections available. It displays large, long lasting clusters of dark purple, crepe-like flowers in summer. The handsome foliage has bronzy cast in spring, bright green in summer, and orange-red in the fall. Catawba is mildew resistant, and more tolerant of dry spells than most Crapes. It is a moderate grower maturing to a rounded dome 15 feet tall and 14 feet wide. Older plants will have exfoliating bark.  Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Feed with a general purpose fertilizer before new growth begins in spring. For a formal appearance, shear annually after flowering.  Plants thrive in full sun in a good heavy loam soil with a pH of 5-6.5. 


Southern Magnolia 'Edith Bogue'
Magnolia grandiflora Edith Bogue

'Edith Bogue' is by far the cold-hardiest Southern Magnolia surviving as far north as Chicago.  It held its leaves here in 2006 when the temperature hovered around -10°F, and certainly stayed below zero for 2 full weeks!  Of pyramidal form (30' tall by 15' wide),  the large, lush evergreen leaves are glossy green above and rusty tomentose below. The creamy white, 8- to 12-inch flowers, emitting that legendary fragrance, appear profusely in late spring and early summer, then sporadically until frost. Showy red fruits add appeal in the fall.  Plant in a location protected from wind and free of competing roots.  Magnolias need good soil in protected areas. Zones 5-9.



Paw-Paw Tree
Asimina triloba

Asimina triloba -Paw-Paw- is related to the tropical Cherimoya (Custard Apple), with huge leaves that look more at home in the jungle, this is actually an Eastern U.S. native, hardy to -25° F! A forest understory tree quite happy in shade, it also tolerates full sun. The fruits, weighing up to a pound each, are rich, sweet, and custard-like, with hints of banana and vanilla. 15 to 30 feet tall. Plant at least two for pollination. Very Cold-Hardy. Rediscover this neglected American classic! Zones 4-9.


Big Leaf Magnolia
Magnolia Macrophylla

M. Macrophylla has the largest simple leaf of any native North American tree, reaching up to 30" in length and a foot wide.  In April to May 10 to 15 inch flowers that are yellowish, ivory in color cover the tree.  The flowers are followed by 3 to 5 inch, ovoid, purplish, hairy fruits which contain the seeds.  Native to the Appalachian Mountains, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, Big Leaf Magnolia prefers a moist, well-drained, protected site where its big leaves will not be torn by the wind.  Although it will tolerate full sun it is happiest as an understory tree beneath the forest canopy where it can still reach 50 feet in height.  Hardy to Zone 5



Hardy Chicago Fig
Ficus carica 'Chicago Hardy'

This edible fig can take sub-freezing temperatures, die back to the ground in the winter, and then re-sprout  in the spring. and bear Fall fruit on new growth.  The secret to winter survival is to keep it reasonably dry and above 10°F for the stem or -25°F for the roots. Of course, a fig grown in this manner will take on a shrub-like form rather than a standard tree-form. If a tree shape is desired it would be best to pot it up and sink the container into the ground, then dig it up in late Fall and store it in a garage; 40°F would be ideal, but above 25°F is sufficient  Alternatively, the tree could be taken inside and treated as a house plant.

The small to medium-sized fruit is purplish-brown with strawberry flesh, and ripens to a delicious sweetness in late summer and early fall. Chicago Hardy fruit have a pyriform shape with a small eye and a long, slender neck.  It resembles Brown Turkey and is an abundant producer of fruit and is quite suitable for a pot or a greenhouse.   This easy-to-grow fig is also known as 'Bensonhurst Purple.' whose origins are from Sicily, however some may argue that it was discovered in a Chicago-area yard.


Brown Turkey Fig
Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'

Brown Turkey fig trees, also referred to as Texas Everbearing, Harrison, Ramsey, Lee's Perpetual, Brunswick, and others, are found primarily in eastern and central Texas. They produce large, sweet-tasting fruits, usually less sour than other types of figs. In order to encourage high fruit production, you must prune the tree during its youth. Many other types of figs do not need pruning at any point, but Brown Turkey figs should have heavy annual pruning sessions especially during winter dormancy.

Brown Turkey is a common fig meaning it is self-pollinating and does not require another plant to bear fruit. It has a medium-sized eye opening that oozes when ripe, which is around late July.  Brown Turkey is hardy in zones 8-10, however with winter protection this fig can be grown successfully in Zone 5. Even if frozen in the winter it will die back to the ground and can re-sprout from the ground and still produce a crop the following Fall. For best production plant in part sun to full sun areas with well drained soils. Mulch liberally with organic material.

Most cultivars of fig trees produce two crops, a spring crop on last season’s growth, and a summer or fall crop on new wood. Allow the figs to ripen on the tree before you pick them. Fresh figs have a very short shelf life.


Celeste Fig
Ficus carica 'Celeste'

Celeste is one of the most popular figs due to its sweet taste and the fact that it is a heavy producer.  Another advantage of Celeste is that it has a closed eye on the fruit which makes it much more difficult for bugs, bees, and birds to invade the inner fruit.  Like the other popular common figs it is root hardy to -10°F, but when it is killed back to the ground it may not bear fruit the next year.  For this reason zone 5 gardeners may wish to keep it in a buried pot, or simply dig up a big rootball in late fall and store it in an unheated garage once it goes dormant.  I simply set my dormant rootballs in a kitchen trash bag with the top loose for air flow, then lean the tree up against a dark wall in the garage and forget about it until March (no water).  My garage stays between 35°F and 45°F during the winter months.

Northern gardeners may not find fig tees for sale in their area, but most figs are very easy to root from dormant cuttings purchased on eBay during the winter.  The cuttings can also be stored in a zip lock bag in the refrigerator crisper for many months until you're ready to root them.  I rooted some 6" sticks in January and they grew to over 6' high and bore fruit by the first Fall.  Very easy to root!



Early Bearing Olive
Olea europaea 'Arbequina'

The Arbequina olive tree comes from the village of Arbeca Spain where it was first introduced from Palestine in the 17th Century.  The small village of 2,500 is dedicated to growing Arbequina olives solely for their oil.  The Arbequina may be the best choice for growing in a large pot as it has a small, compact form and is slower growing than most, and very versatile.  This silvery, dusty-green, evergreen beauty offers fragrant spring blooms and succulent fruit, but more importantly it is self-fertile so a single tree is all that is necessary to produce fruit.  Arbequina bears fruit earlier than any other olive tree - typically on a 5-year old tree. In Spring, small, fragrant cream-colored blooms peek out from among the attractive foliage followed by masses of olives in summer. The olives emerge green and then darken to glossy brown. This tree tops out at about 20 feet high and 12 feet wide but will remain much smaller in pots.

Arbequina is also one of the most cold-tolerant olives (10°F), and tolerates bad conditions and neglect, although pleaty of sun and good drainage are musts!

 Being the universal symbol of peace, there is something mystic, religious, and special about trees that Jesus witnessed in Gethsemane that are still alive today.  I'm really "jacked" about my small trees!


Hydrangea Twist and Shout
Hydrangea macrophyllia 'Twist-n-Shout'



Hydrangea Bloomstruck
Hydrangea macrophyllia 'Bloomstruck'



Japanese Forest Grass'
Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'



Rose Mallow 'Fireball'
Hibiscus moscheutos 'Fireball'

This dazzling new introduction from the late Fleming Brothers makes a compact 4' tall plant with fine-textured green foliage - often with a purple blush.  Gigantic flowers up to 12" wide sit atop compact, shrub-like plants from mid to late summer.  The blossoms are flaming red and have overlapping petals.  Each successive spring will bring larger flowers especially if they are well watered.  The finely textured, dissected foliage glows with a purplish blush and the sturdy stems display red veining.  Mulch heavily the first winter and cut back to 6" in the Spring.  This tropical looking beauty is hardy to zone 4.


Rose Mallow 'Kopper King'
Hibiscus moscheutos 'Kopper King'

'Kopper King' is a compact, vigorous, sturdy, rounded, somewhat shrubby, woody-based hibiscus cultivar which typically grows to 3-4' tall. Features copper-red foliage and dinner plate-sized, 5-petaled, hollyhock-like flowers (10-12" diameter) which are among the largest flowers produced by any perennial which is hardy to the Chicago area. Flowers are light pink with red veining and a bright red central eye. Each flower has a prominent and showy pale yellow tubular central staminal column. Individual flowers last only one day, but one or more flowers usually open each day, in succession, over a long mid-summer to early fall bloom period. Lobed, maple-like leaves are coppery red. Commonly called rose mallow. This hybrid is a recent introduction from the Fleming Brothers of Lincoln, Nebraska who have produced several rose mallow hybrids.  Plant lower in the ground than usual and trim back to 4-6" in the late Fall.  Hardy to Zone 4.


Rose Mallow 'Lord Baltimore'
Hibiscus moscheutos 'Lord Baltimore'

From mid-summer until frost, Lord Baltimore has brilliant, ruffled, dinner plate sized, red blooms up to 10" across.  The 4 to 5 foot, shrub-like plants have deeply lobed leaves and stay compact especially in full sun.  Be patient for spring growth as hibiscus break dormancy very late.  Plant in full sun to partial shade 4" deep.  This plant is the ONE exception to the above-grade rule when planting.  Give the plant plenty of organic material and don't let it dry out between watering - especially the first year.  Plants become more draught-tolerant with age.  Trim back to 6" in late Fall or early Spring.  Hardy to Zone 4


Rose Double Knock Out
Rosa 'Radtko'

Several years ago, Knock Out wowed gardeners everywhere with its superb performance as a landscape Rose. Not only was it a tireless bloomer all summer and into fall, but it was terrific at keeping its dense, healthy green foliage no matter what the climate. The same breeder has developed its sister seedling, with all the same disease resistance, floriferousness, plus DOUBLE-flowered blooms and even greater shade tolerance.  These blooms of shiny fire-engine red are about 2 1/2 inches wide and utterly unstoppable from early summer right up through November many years. Most are fully double, with others semi-double, with an average petal count of 18 to 25. These blooms are all high-centered in the classic Rose form. No need to deadhead this lively shrub.  The flowers just keep coming no matter what.  Crown-hardy to -20°F, this 3- by 3-foot shrub withstands drought, heat, humidity thru zone 4.


Pink Double Knock Out
Rosa 'Radtkopink'



Caroline Gable (Gable) -15º

Joe Gable hybridized a lot of azaleas. Formed by crossing poukhanense x kaempferi, and poukhanense x hexe, Caroline was chosen by Joe Gable as one of his brightest reds. Late mid-searson flowers are 11/2" with a deeper blotch, budding profusely in sun. A hardy plant which is upright and spreading, growing to 4-5'.  Foliage is very glossy, dark emerald green with burgundy, and tropical-looking.  Winter appearance is much lusher than other evergreen azaleas, and once established this plant will hold its leaves without any protection in Zone 5.


Clumping (Fountain) Bamboo
Fargesia rufa

Fargesia rufa is a recently introduced species from the mountains of Western Sichuan, China. Fargesia rufa is a pachymorph, which means that it couldn't run even if it was being chased down the mountain by a pack of starving pandas. In form, this short clumper makes an elegant 8' tall upright fountain. In addition to the wonderful form, the culm sheaths are reddish-brown. In initial tests, Fargesia rufa looks to be quite tolerant to both heat and cold.  This very hardy clumping bamboo should remain evergreen even in Zone 5.. The overall impression in the Spring is green with a little red. It is also unusually tolerant of sun for a Fargesia.



Japanese Knotwood, Mexican Bamboo
 Polygonum cuspidatum 'Spectabile'

Although similar in appearance to some bamboos, Spectabile is a Knotweed that also spreads via underground rhizomes, but is much more "controllable" than most invasive bamboos.  The leaves are green but heavily marbled with speckled, frosted cream to pink -- especially the newly emerging leaves but later age to green.  Although this plant may reach 6' in height, it will never grow as tall as the green species due to the lack of chlorophyll in the white part of the leaves.  Adding a tropical touch to the temperate garden, Spectable will grow in full sun or part shade and is hardy through Zone 5.

Buckthorn 'Fine Line'
Rhamnus frangula 'Ron Williams'

Fine Line is one of the coolest new introductions in years. This splendid Buckthorn combines airy, ferny foliage with upright, slender growth, so that it looks freshly-trimmed yet needs no attention at all to keep its perfect "figure".  Happy in containers or the garden, it's easy to grow, almost self-maintaining, and brings a tropical flair to any setting.

Reaching about 6 feet high but no more than 2½ feet wide, Fine Line looks like an architect's drawing of the perfect accent plant.  Unlike most buckthorns this one is non-invasive, and will not re-seed itself all over the yard since it bears very few fruits, which are sterile.  Always looking trim and neat, the upright habit keeps it as fresh in August as it was in April.   Happy in full sun to partial shade, in any good garden soil, Fine Line is quite cold- and heat-tolerant within its hardiness range. Small enough for a patio garden but majestic enough for the focal point of even a large setting, this little shrub is an excellent alternative to larger bamboo or ornamental grasses, and contriutes a unique foliage texture to the tropical landscape.  Space plants about 18 inches apart for a nice hedge.  Hardy in zones 3-7.


Variegated Monkey Grass (Lilyturf)
Lirope muscari 'Variegata'

It’s easy to sing the praises of variegated lilyturf for making the perfect edger.  Its impeccable green-striped-with-cream foliage is vibrant and grass-like, but the leaves are wider and more blunt at their tip than grasses. Ideal as an edging plant, a clump runs from 1 to 1½ feet tall and half again as wide. The crisp, virtually indestructible leaves look attractive all season and often well into the winter. Nor are the spikes of small blue-violet flowers anything to sneeze at. They appear in late September—when few flowers are in bloom—and continue through the middle of October. Another virtue of variegated lilyturf is its tolerance of shade. Indeed, it bleaches out a bit in full sun, preferring morning sun and afternoon shade, and it will put up with moderate to dense shade as well.  Fully evergreen up to Zone 6, northern gardeners will want to cut it back to the ground  in early spring before the new growth appears.


Boxwood Winter Gem
Buxus microphylla 'Winter Gem'

An excellent densely branched evergreen shrub for small hedges. Among the hardiest of boxwoods (to Zone 5), Winter Gem retains its dark green velvety foliage color in winter. Grows best in full to partial sun. Moderate grower to 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, but can be pruned to any size and shape.  Winter Gem also makes a nice stand-alone specimen.


Pieris Japonica 'Mountain Fire'

Japanese Pieris is an upright evergreen shrub with a neat habit of stiff, spreading branches.  Small white bell-shaped flowers appear in late March and early April.  Flowers take second place, however, to the new growth in the spring which is fiery-red, and lasts over a long period before turning deep glossy green.  Plant in sun or partial shade.  It is very important to protect Pieris from winter winds.


Pachysandra 'Green Sheen'
Pachysandra terminalis Green Sheen

An exciting new variation of one of the most valuable and carefree evergreen groundcovers, with foliage so unbelievably glossy that each leaf shines like a little green mirror -- while a dense stand glints and sparkles to light up any shady corner.  Each plant grows only 10 to 12 inches high, and over a 2 to 3-year period will spread to evenly carpet a 3-foot space.  Plant in light to full shade; tolerant of wide range of soils from moist to dry.  Superb in combination with ferns and hostas.


Anah Kruschke (Kruschke)
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6' -15ºF Sun Tolerant

A great plant for that spot in the sun.  The beautiful flowers are reddish-purple with a darker purple eye on the upper lobe of each floret.  The deep dark green foliage of this plant is striking, full and robust.  This is a strong growthing plant that fits into a wide range of conditions.  This one is more tropical-looking than most and the leaves last for 3 years resulting in a compact, dense plant.



Hosta 'Ryan's Big One'

Hosta Ryan's Big One

Ryan's Big One is a very tall, 3-4 foot plant, with deeply puckered, thick bluish-green leaves.  The leaves on this extra large giant, can reach up to 18 inches in length and over a foot wide -- much larger than sieboldiana hostas.  A strong grower, it forms impressive clumps up to 5 feet in diameter.  The flowers are white.


Tender Tropicals in Zone 5
(easy to dig and store or move inside)


Umbrella Palm

Cyperus alternifolius

The Umbrella Palm, also known as Umbrella Plant and Umbrella Papyrus, is an excellent accent plant for ponds or patios. Umbrella Palms provide an exciting look to any location - home, office or pond.  A quick grower, Umbrella Palms have 24 to 72 inch high stems with thin blades arranged like an umbrella on the end. They can easily achieve this height in one growing season.  Plant them in nutrient rich soil in 2 to 5-gallon or larger containers. They prefer 1 to 6 inches water depth, and to be placed in sun to partial shade. Waterproof containers can also be sunk around the garden to create a bog situation for the palm.  Umbrella Palms may spread easily to 12-48". Officially, zones 9-11, but I've had them look pretty nice after freezing temperatures, and they do well in a 40°F garage all winter, but most fronds must be cut back.


Sago Palm
Cycas revoluta





Giant Thailand Elephant Ear
Colocasia  Giant Thailand Strain

Make mine super-sized! This huge strain of the giant elephant ear was grown from wild seed collected from Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand, in 2003.  In the wild, the plants reached a massive 9' tall, which is much larger than the clone of C. gigantea that is readily available.   In trials individual leaves have  grown  in excess of 5' long x 4' wide. Although there will be slight differences between individual seedlings the end result will be a massive plant!  From a tiny 5" plant each new leaf will nearly double in size to reach monstrous proportions in a single growing season.  Foliage-wise, the leaves are an attractive glaucous-grey which is typical of this species. From an early age, the plants are adorned with clusters of dramatically large, pleasantly scented, white flowers.  Hardy to zone 7 so dig and store.  (in my experience dig and store has never worked)


Giant Elephant Ear
Alocasia macrorrhizos "Borneo Giant"

The second largest undivided leafed plant in the world.  Slightly more cold tolerant than previouisly thought and recorded.  The upright leaves grow to a height of 15 feet and the stem petiloes can grow to 10 feet tall pushing the large leaves even higher into the air.  These are fast reproducers creating pups around the base of the mother plant once they are established, but are not invasive.  Mature plants have a deep, dark green blue-ish hue to the leaves.  These large tubers are easy to dig and store over the winter in the north.  Plants will do well in partial shade and even deeper shade and a fast draining soil rich in compost.  Hardy in Zone 7.  I put a few of these in my living room in the Winter and guests go gaga. 


Calidora Elephant Ear
Alocasia 'Calidora'





Giant Elephant Ear
Colocasia esculenta 'Jack's Giant'

Jack's Giant was introduced by Jack de Vroomen of Marlboro Bulb Company, who brought this Elephant Ear back from Costa Rica. The tuber was much larger and shaped differently from other esculenta forms that have been grown. In just one summer the plants typically reach 7' tall, even in a very dry section of the yard.  Jack's Giant has mottled, medium green leaves similar to typical esculenta. It appears to be a triploid form, which should increase winter hardiness, but the plant is new and there isn't much data yet. Remember that rich, organic soils that are moist during the growing season result in the best growth and the plant will benefit from additional water and fertilizer. This is another "must have" to super-size your tropical garden in a temperate zone.  Plants multiply quickly with runners/pups. This plant would probably survive a Zone 6 winter in my experience.



Elephant Ear - Black Magic
Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic'

The 'Black Magic' elephant's ear features unusual purplish-black leaves and typically grows about 4' tall, but can reach 6' if given plenty of water. It is primarily a foliage plant with huge, heart-shaped, conspicuously-veined, downward-pointing, peltate leaves of up to 2' on long petioles. Calla lily-like flowers with yellowish-white spathes and spadixes are usually hidden by the foliage, but flowers are infrequently produced. Commonly called taro, Colocasia esculenta is commercially grown as a food crop in Hawaii where this plant originated from. It is best grown in fertile, hummusy, organically rich, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Full sun generally brings out the best leaf color for this cultivar. However in areas with hot summers the plant will welcome some light afternoon shade. This plant will suffer if the soil is allowed to dry out. Plants may also be grown in a pond in up to 6" of standing water. Plants produce prodigious amounts of growth and appreciate regular fertilization during the growing season. Black Magic is hardy into zone 7, but should overwinter easily stored in an area that stays above 25º F.



Elephant Ear - Purple Giant
Colocasia 'Nobal Gigante'

Colocasia Nobal (Noble) Gigante is the first in a new, exciting Gigantes TM series of "ginormous" hybrids developed by Brian Williams of Brian's Botanicals by crossing Colocasia gigantea with esculenta (probably Black Magic).  It is not clear if it is regular gigantea, or the larger Giant Thailand strain?  While suitable for a pot, or in the ground this Elephant Ear can easily grow 6' to 8' in one growing season.  The 2' - 3' leaves will be purple-blue in full sun, but tend more towards a softer purple-gray in the shade.  Four to eight hours of sun is recommended as is afternoon shade.  Purple Giant is listed as only hardy through Zone 8, so over wintering may prove to be a challenge.  I'm still trying to get enough divisions that I can experiment.



Elephant Ear - Black Beauty
Colocasia esculenta va. antiquorum 'Black Beauty'

Colocasia Black Beauty is a much darker improvement on the older Colocasia Illustrius. Brian Williams (Brian's Botanicals) found this growing among thousands of plants a few years ago and promptly called it Black Beauty. At times the plant can have a solid black leaf with a single green dot in the center. It suckers freely and can make a large clump over time. This plant has survived Zone 6 winters in Louisville, Kentucky with heavy mulching.  It's hardiness makes it a great candidate to dig and store in an unheated garage or root celler.  This "ear" is very happy grown in a pond even with the bulb submerged.


Imperial Taro
Colocasia esculenta va. antiquorum 'Illustris'

A large, tuberous perennial native to tropical Asia, taro is grown for its breath-taking huge, heart-shaped leaves, up to 3' long, that add drama to the landscape. The cultivar 'Illustris' has purple-black leaves with eye-popping green veins and violet leaf stalks and is native to Asia and Polynesia. Sweetly fragrant flowers with large creamy-yellow spathes may appear in summer. Beautiful near a water feature, taro grows well in shallow water or in any evenly moist, humus-rich, neutral to slightly acid soil. It also grows well in shade, or filtered sun. This plant has been around since the early 1900's. When storing for the winter, keep it drier during its quiescent period and above 20º F


Mickey Mouse Taro
Xanthosoma Albo Marginata

Xanthosoma albo marginata is a very unusual, and sometimes hard-to-find Taro. This plant has an irregular variegation pattern, first emerging yellow with light gray green. As the leaves mature the green color deepens and the cream fades to white which is very striking  Some of mine actually have large splotches of intense yellow. This Taro is known as the Mickey Mouse Taro because the shape of the leaves look similar to the Disney character. At the tip of the leaf a pocket with a tail forms, providing further interest, and it also holds water like a cup. It will benefit from lots of fertilizer in a filtered sun spot, and shouldn't be allowed to dry out. At maturity this Taro can reach 5' tall and is hardy to zone 7, but it is a "wimp" to overwinter like traditional bulbs.


Calypso Oleander
Nerium oleander 'Calypso'

Nerium oleander is an evergreen shrub reaching 6 to 12 feet in height and spread, but can top off at 20 feet in the South. Calypso is extremely cold hardy for an Oleander, but it is subject to freeze damage. The leaves are dark green throughout the seasons. Flowers bloom in summer to early fall; each flower is 1 1/2 inch in diameter, borne in terminal cymes on new growth. Flowers are showy, fragrant pink and may be singles or doubles. Various cultivars are available. Bears a slender pod fruit, not really ornamental. It is tolerant of seascapes, likes well drained, fertile soil, withstands dry conditions and pollution. Calypso should have at least 6 hours of direct sun per day for best flowering.  It is native to southern Asia in the Mediterranean area. This is an extremely toxic plant. Even the dried leaves can be lethal, so do not burn.


Hardy Red Oleander
Nerium oleander 'Hardy Red'

Nerium oleander 'Hardy Red' sports single red blossoms and dark green leathery leaves. This Oleander can reach up to 6-12' in height and 10' wide. Like all Oleanders, Hardy Red is drought, heat, salt, wind, and pollution tolerant and is often seen growing where other plants won't such as highway medians. Oleander is also a great choice for sheared hedges as well as for screening.  For best flowering prune only in early fall and plant in a site that gets at least 6 hours minimum of sun per day.  The more sun, the more flowers!  This oleander will hold its evergreen leaves down into single digits for short spells.  Even if it is zapped by cold it can rebound and grow up to 6 feet in once season from well-established roots.  For this reason gardeners have had success in Zone 6 and are giving it a try in Zone 5.  Although they can survive in Zone 5, they have a small root system which makes them easy to dig and store.  In a 40°F garage they will survive all winter totally neglected, not drop a leaf, and have buds in March ready to bloom.


Silver Dollar Gum Tree
Eucalyptus polyanthemos

Eucalyptus polyanthemos, also known as the silver dollar gum, produces highly-fragrant, evergreen foliage that naturally deters fleas and other pests. Like almost all Eucalyptus it is native to Australia. Naturally shrubby in appearance, the eucalyptus silver dollar plant blooms from spring until winter, producing pink or white fluffy flowers that contain honey. Suckers may be pruned in early Spring if a tree-form is desired. Eucalyptus silver dollar plants prefer to grow in full sun and well-drained soil where the roots won't be constantly wet. Stones work better as mulch that bark does by helping the soil dry out. Eucalyptii don't transplant well, especially if pot-bound and the roots are disturbed. A slow-release fertilizer works for potted plants, but remember that Eucalyptus do not appreciate phosphorus (the middle number) well.  Silver Dollar is hardy to 15º F for a short period of time.


Cider Gum Tree
Eucalyptus gunnii

Gunnii is a species of Eucalyptus endemic to Tasmania, occurring on the plains and slopes of the central plateau. This species is noted for its exceptional cold tolerance for a Eucalyptus as it is hardy to 10º F, but can stand -5º F for a brief time. Planted as an ornamental, Gunnii can be pruned as a shrub or grown as a tree. Although fast-growing, Gunnii, will be much smaller when grown in a pot than the 120' it reaches in nature. Shade will also restrict its growth, and it doesn't like extremely dry or wet soils. The foliage will change as the tree matures from a round leaf of waxy blue to a more elongated rich green foliage in the older tree but if maintained as a shrub the juvenile foliage will be retained. The plant produces a sweet sap similar to maple syrup, and when bottled and capped, the liquid ferments and resembles apple cider, hence the cider gum.


Banana Leaf Canna
Canna Musafolia

Canna Musafolia is a giant monster of a Canna which is grown mainly for it’s over all size and height. The leaves look more like a banana’s leaf, very wide and long on large maroon stems, reaching up to about 15 feet, possibly 18 feet in a protected area. The flowers are small, red, and bloom only late in the season. They are hardly noticeable unless you are looking for them.  The rhizomes of this plant are different than most Cannas. They are large clumpy sections that do not seem to run but stay compact and slowly get larger each year.  Not many Cannas can reach this size and it makes an excellent back drop for a tropical landscape. The foliage is green with a maroon rim and is very long and very wide.  This plant prefers full sun and rich soil.  Hardy to zone 7 so dig and overwinter in a basement or garage.


Yucca Cane Tee (Spineless Yucca)
Yucca elephatipes

A dramatic landscape element, Spineless Yucca is the tallest of the Yuccas, ultimately reaching 30 feet in height with a 15-foot spread.  Its single, thick, rough trunk is topped with straplike, four-foot-long leaves. In the landscape the trunk can grow to four feet  in diameter. Sprouts often grow from the base of the trunk forming a multitrunked tree. Spineless Yucca grows fairly rapidly but usually stays under 20 feet in height, and is ideal for use in succulent gardens or large planters. Unlike its close relative, Spanish Bayonet, Spineless Yucca can be used in close range of people since it lacks the formidable, terminal spine and has harmless leaves. It was introduced into Florida in 1956 as a substitute for the spiny Spanish Bayonet.  Easily hardy to Zone 8, it is perfectly happy in a 40°F garage all winter with no water or light.


Canna Red Stripe
Canna indica 'Red Stripe"'

Canna Red Stripe is a rare and very impressive and showy specimen, not only for its erect brilliant red blooms and its lush and shockingly beautiful burgundy red and green leaves, but also for its great stature. This canna easily grows to eight or nine feet in the South. In cooler climates it may reach a slightly less height, but it will still be a show stopper. The flowers are a bright red, leaning slightly toward the orange side of the spectrum. They are magnets fro hummingbirds.  Although the flowers are interesting, this canna is grown for its huge foliage.  The leaves are large (around 2 feet) and bear the dark red stripes for which it was named.  Hardy to zone 7, so dig and store.


Canna Stuttgart
Canna x generalis ''Stuttgart'

This unusual canna was discovered in Germany at the Stuttgart Botanical Gardens. Like some other tropical plants Stuttgart is a tall growing canna with large tropical foliage that has blocks of white on its leaves and stem. These blocks of white variegation are caused by having incomplete or completely missing chloroplasts cells that can not photosynthesize. In colder temperatures the white sometimes displays a pale yellow or cream color. If grown in full sun the white will burn and become brown. For this reason an Eastern exposure or filtered shade location is preferred. Stuttgart will also grow huge and multiply in a pond.  The pot can be totally submersed!  When grown in a pond the white in the leaves doesn't hardly burn even in full sun. Although grown as a foliage plant of up to 8', Stuttgart will produce flowers of pale apricot that fade through to pink. Hardy to zone 7, but might overwinter in a pond in colder zones.


Canna Intrigue
Canna Intrigue

 All garden visitors love this striking Canna, including hummingbirds. This 1978 seedling selection from California's Herb Kelly, is one of the most unusual looking Canna lilies that you can grow. The very narrow, pointed, purple-grey foliage makes one of the most stunning accent plants in the garden. In addition, the narrow leaves and strong vertical habit make the architectural presentation of this Canna most special. The 7' tall clumps are topped in very late summer with small pinky - peach flowers.  This Canna is rarely seen but very easy to grow.  I can obtain a height of 6 to 8 feet and prefers full sun in a rich soil.  It is easily hardy to Zone 7 so a good candidate for garage storage in the winter.



Canna Bengal Tiger
Canna x generalis ''Pretoria'

Bengal Tiger has green and yellow striped leaves with a purple-ish margin. A good clumping plant to about 6 feet with large orange flowers in August and September. Brings a touch of the tropics to tubs, beds, and borders. They need full sun to bring out the stripes, tending to be more green in the shade, do best in moist to wet soil, and can even be grown as an aquatic in a pond. The pond container can be completely submerged, and this plant will grow huge in the water, and multiply like crazy! There is also some evidence that, like Colocasias, they reduce the nitrate levels in unfiltered fish ponds, keeping the water sweeter. You couldn't wish for a better looking filter.  Easily hardy to single digits, Bengal Tiger provides many winter storage options.


Angel Trumpet "Painted Lady"
Brugmansia 'Painted Lady'

Big, bold and scentabulous, Brugs are to your garden, what scented candles are to your living room especially right before nightfall. The vanilla fragrance of “Painted Lady' sometimes carries on into the mid morning for a treat with your morning coffee. Hybridized by Bonnie Vaughn, 'Painted Lady' is exceptionally heat tolerant, easily grown as a tree, and blooms at a young age sometimes when only 2 ½ feet tall. Typically blooming every 3-4 weeks with flowers lasting up to 9 days, 'Painted Lady' goes through 3 distinct flower stages. The flowers will open a pure white, but at their zenith will become a beautiful hot carmine pink eventually ending the last two days a fiery brick red. The plant usually displays some flowers between flushes too. This plant is striking even from a distance and will definitely draw attention!


Angel Trumpet Snowbank
Brugmansia 'Snowbank'

This Terra Nova introduction is a tetraploid version of the popular Brugmansia 'Sunray'. 'Snowbank' is an amazing variegated selection that makes a spectacular container or specimen plant. Due to its variegation, it will prefer more filtered sun than most Brugs.  Its large leaves are edged in creamy white, with a marbled dark green and grey-green middle 'Snowbank' forms a woody upright tree or bush, with huge fragrant peach, trumpet flowers that dangle from the stems in late summer and into autumn. Flowers may also sometimes appear light pink or salmon in color. Only hardy to zone 9, 'Snowbank' is best grown in a large pot and wintered indoors. Cut back on watering in the fall and allow the plant to go dormant. Plants will probably drop their leaves during winter storage and appear quite shabby, but will quickly recover with new growth in the Spring. If you have any whiteflies they will find Snowbank!


Angel Trumpet Bergkonigin
Brugmansia x candida 'Bergkonigin'

Bergkonigin is a beautiful Candida hybrid brugmansia by Dorothea Langenberg.  Its flowers can be one of the reddest of all Brugmansia, but mostly they are watermelon colored.  The flowers are double with long tendrils and are 14" - 16" in length.  Bergkonigin has a stout, thick trunk with huge leaves and does well trained as a tree.  It doesn't seem to attract spider mites like mot Brugmansia, but white flies love it.  Bergkonigin seems to be rare and hard to find, but it should become a very popular Brugmansia since there are few choices for a red.


Angel Trumpet Super Spot
Brugmansia x candida 'Super Spot'

Hailed as the reddest red, the German Brug Super Spot commands high prices on the internet and eBay.  It was introduced in 2003.  The flowers are described as tomato red (with optimal coloring) which is achieved in calcareous soil and plenty of bloom burst fertilizers.  The flower is a single and not as big as some Brug flowers such as Versicolors.  It performs best in partial shade and is relatively pest free, although mine has had some pretty persistent spider mites, but never any whiteflies.  For me, the flowers actually open white/yellow, but quickly turn a dark pink and then become red for a small time.  If you like deep, dark pink this is a great choice, but for a red I prefer Bergkonigin.  The flowers are also smaller on Super Spot, but it blooms constantly - even when small.


Japanese Aralia
Fatsia Japonica Variegata

 Everyone who sees this striking, tropical looking plant comments on it.  The shiny, palm-like leaves are marbled in creamy white variegation and will add a bold texture to any garden.  This plant will also grow in deep shade in place of boring, over-planted hostas.  Umbels of white flowers appear in fall and are almost space-like in appearance. Black fruit follows.  Grown in the ground this plant will reach about 10 feet tall and wide.

Fatsia is officially hardy to zone 7 and it remains totally evergreen in a 40°F garage with no light and no water..

Variegated Shell Ginger
Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata'

Alpinia zerumbet Variegata will show the best foliage color in partial sun or slightly shady conditions. Variegated Shell Ginger will flower after the second year if it does not freeze back in the winter. The flowers droop in sprays starting as waxy white or ivory buds, opening one at a time to reveal yellow lips with pink or red marked throats. This clump-forming perennial can grow to be as much as 6 feet tall with a spread of 5 to10 feet. This plant has long, densely massed stems with broad, green leaves. The foliage of Variegated Shell Ginger is green with yellow variegation or stripes and is a great accent plant to highlight a dark area.  It is hardy to Zone 8, but may die back there.  It prefers to be kept damp, but not wet.  It is a luxury that requires an indoor site, and care to winter over.


Chinese Yellow Banana
Musella lasiocarpa

Also know as the golden lotus banana, the Chinese Dwarf Banana actually belongs to the Ensete genus -- not a Musa.  The plant is native to the Yunnan province in China, which also has given us the Mekong Giant Banana.  Musella grows high in the mountains up to an altitude of 2500 meters.  It is best know for its yellow, erect flower which generally will appear during its second season of cultivation, even on smallish plants.  The flower can resembles a lotus flower right before opening and can last from several months to over a year.  Musella prefers consistently moist soil, but does not like to be water logged.  It is hardier than most Ensets through Zone 7 and therefore is a good candidate to overwinter in a garage that stays above freezing.


Canna Tropicanna
Canna x generalis 'Tropicanna'

Tropicanna cannas provide an excellent backdrop in the perennial border, or a focal point when grown in large containers. Many people are attracted to the “tropical” feeling generated by these exotic plants. Tropicanna is one of the most colorful Canna on the market. Its bright orange flowers are a great contrast to the dark foliage striped with vibrant colors of pink, red, yellow, orange and green.  Zone 7 hardy.

Castor Bean
Ricinus communis

The source of castor beans and castor oil, this plant is more toxic to humans than any other plant.  The entire plant is toxic, but the seeds more than any other part. The plant is, however, very striking in cultivation and many horticultural varieties exist. The typical species is mostly a green plant but many varieties have red stems and reddish-pink flowers that are very tropical in appearance.  Plant should be treated as an annual and disposed of each Winter.