Tag Archives: tropical plants

Mandevilla: Tropical Beauties Worth Keeping

mandevillaMandevilla plants are popular summer bloomers here in this area.  I have always admired these vigorous climbers with bright, large, trumpet-shaped flowers. Usually, I see pink, red, or white blossoms, but there are other colors on the market.

Mandevilla is a member of the Apocynaceae family, also known as the dogbane family, cousin to Plumeria (frangipani), Nerium (oleander), Vinca (periwinkle), Amsonia (blue star), and Hoya (wax plant). Native to southeastern United States, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies, these are considered tropical plants here in the DC area. Mandevilla was named after Henry Mandeville, a British diplomat and gardener who discovered this plant in Argentina and sent it back to England in the 1800s.

tango twirl mandevilla

Tango Twirl has fully double petals, photo courtesy of Doreen Wynja for Monrovia

In recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of hybridizing with mandevillas. There are many lines or series such as Sun Parasol, Sunvilla, Bombshell, and Parfait. There are plants that are more compact than the species, really compact for containers, and plants with variegated foliage, double-petaled flowers, and new flower colors such as apricot. They are all beautiful, but they are not cheap. Although they may cost a little more, they thrive in our hot, humid summers; are deer and rabbit resistant; and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

They do need support and should be planted with a trellis or obelisk or planted near a pergola or a fence. If they are grown in containers, they will need fertilizer in the summer for continuous blooms.  They are actually very versatile. I have seen them in containers at gas stations where they thrive despite the heat and neglect and I have seen them used to decorate arbors, arbors and pergolas.


Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland

Because these are tropical vines, hardy to Zone 10, they will die here in the DC area in the winter. But you can protect them over the winter so they can be brought outside again next year for another season of beauty.

apricot colored flower

Apricot is an unusual, apricot colored flower, photo courtesy of Doreen Wynja for Monrovia

There are basically two ways to do this. One is to grow them like houseplants indoors and the other is to let them go dormant for the winter. In the fall, before the temperatures dip below fifty degrees, bring the plant inside. Remember that night temperatures can dip below fifty even though day temperatures are still warm in the fall.

To grow like a houseplant, trim them back first. It can be a real haircut, up to one half of the foliage, but do it so you are removing leaves and stems for reducing transpiration, not to make it ugly. Then place in a room that has much light as possible while as cool as possible. Water less frequently; do not fertilize. It may not bloom but that is okay, it is just surviving for a few months. Keep watching for pests. In the spring, prune and fertilize. In early June bring the plant outside. Place in shade first and gradually move to full sun.

The dormant method is to bring the plant indoors and trim back to about twelve inches. Put in a cool garage or basement where temperature is above freezing. Make sure it does not dry out completely. Water only to prevent it from drying out. In the spring, bring it in the house to increased light and heat. In early June, bring it outside. Again, shade first and gradually to full sun.

This way, your mandevilla plant should provide color every summer and you will certainly get your money’s worth.

Sneak Peak at New, Unique Houseplants from Costa Farms

Philodendron ‘Golden Crocodile’

In the beginning of March, I spent a few days in Miami attending Costa Farms’ Season Premiere event. This was at their trial gardens and for me as a garden communicator, this was an opportunity to see how plants performed as well as learn about new plant introductions and meet the plant breeders. Costa Farms is one of the largest horticultural growers in the world. It is a fourth generation, family-run company that employees more than 6,000 people and grows plants on 5,000 acres. The company started in 1961 when Jose Costa Senior purchased 30 acres to grow tomatoes in the winter and calamondin citrus in the summer. Soon he was growing houseplants and now the company has expanded into annuals, perennials, and tropical plants for the garden.

Philodendron ‘Ring of Fire’

I attended the event with several other GardenComm members. Justin Hancock, senior horticulturist at Costa Farms, treated us to a sneak preview of the 2023 and 2024 introductions for Costa Farms’ Trending Tropicals® collection. He also gave us a tour of the packing and shipping facility where orders are carefully wrapped, packaged, and put on trucks to deliver across the country. Each plant order comes with a postcard providing light, water, and fertilizer requirements as well as growing tips. They have a staff dedicated to answering the customers’ plant questions and a very informative website.

Although you can see their houseplants at Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, and other retail locations, you can also buy direct via their shop costa website.

Most of the Trending Tropicals® collection of houseplants are selected by their plant hunters (yes, that really is a profession) who travel to other countries to look for unique plants that can be grown here. Once they identify possibilities, they bring them back to Costa Farms to propagate and trial before they are sold to the public. Some of the plants Justin showed us were discovered by staff at Costa Farms as “sports” (natural mutations) from their current inventory.

Dieffenbachia ‘Crocodile’

Justin showed us 19 new plants for 2023 and 2024 in one of the production warehouses. In my descriptions below, I hyperlinked to those varieties that are in stock and ready to be ordered directly from their website at the time of this writing.

Of the 19, there are three 2024 introductions that are not available yet and not on the Costa Farms’ website but here is a sneak peek at these fascinating plants. All are large houseplants, perfect for living room décor, and easy to grow in bright light. Philodendron ‘Golden Crocodile’ has large, serrated leaves that first appear as golden yellow maturing to light green. Philodendron ‘Ring of Fire’ has variegated foliage with splashes of white, cream, and yellow. Dieffenbachia ‘Crocodile’ has large green leaves speckled white or light green. The back of the leaves’ midrib has “scales” – like a crocodile’s back.

In the photo above, from left to right in the back:  Epipremnum ‘Lemon Meringue’, Aglonema ‘Solar Flare’, Spathiphyllum ‘Sophia’. Two in front from left to right: Alocasia azlanii and Cordyline ‘Mini Me’.

Epipremnum Lemon Meringue is a pothos or devil’s ivy with gold leaf margins. It is very easy to grow and can tolerate low light. Aglonema ‘Solar Flare’ also is easy to grow and can take low light and a bit of dryness — perfect for those who forget to water plants or travel frequently. ‘Solar Flare’ is variegated with white petioles (stems), almost like a bok choi Chinese cabbage. Spathiphyllum ‘Sophia’ (also known as peace lily) has variegated green leaves. Cordyline ‘Mini Me’ is a great tabletop houseplant. Given its small stature, it packs a punch of pink foliage, especially if given bright light. Alocasia azlanii has very dark purple, almost metallic colored leaves. It too is a small plant, perfect for tables or even terrariums.

In the photo above, from left to right in the back: Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’, Philodendron ‘Painted Lady’, and Epipremnum amplissimum ‘Silver Streak’. The two in front from left to right: Philodendron ‘White Knight’ and Philodendron ‘Golden Violin’.

Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’ is a climbing vine with bronze-green leaves splashed with pink. ‘Pink Lady’ has gold green foliage with pink petioles (stems). Epipremnum amplissimum ‘Silver Streak’ is an unusual pothos in that it has narrow, long green leaves. To me, its branching habit makes it look like an orchid. White Knight has white markings on green leaves. Philodendron ‘Golden Violin’ is coming soon; you may not see it on the website now. The new growth is golden yellow, changing to chartreuse. This is a climber that needs bright light, and the leaves get larger if grown vertically.


In the photo above, from left to right in the back:  Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Chameleon’, Aglonema spathomena, and Monstera standleyana albo-variegata. In front center is Tradescantia ‘Roxxo’.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a mouthful; most people just say “ZZ plant.” With ‘Chameleon’, the new foliage is bright yellow because the leaves do not have chlorophyll. This plant can survive in low light plant but you want to give it as much light as possible to encourage new growth, thus new yellow leaves. As the leaves age, the chlorophyll develops and the foliage becomes green. Aglonema spathomena looks like a spathiphyllum but there are no flowers. The foliage is variegated with dark and light green colors. Monstera standleyana albo-variegata is a creamy white variegated monstera plant. Unlike other monstera plants, the leaves do not have the Swiss cheese effect of holes in the foliage. Tradescantia ‘Roxxo’ is an upright form of tradescantia. The thick foliage is dark green with purple undersides.

Dieffenbachia ‘Cool Beauty’

For a fuller, bushy Dieffenbachia, try ‘Cool Beauty’ with green and white variegated leaves and white margins. This plant suckers (puts forth new stems) from the base. It can reach a foot tall — still a good height for a table.

Another new introduction that will appear on Costa Farms’ website soon is Alocasia ‘Jacklyn’. Jacklyn has very large, dark green, fuzzy leaves with reticulated stems (big word for color changes). This unusually hairy alocasia plant just screams ‘Amazon River’!

All of these plants would be great houseplants for your home. Explore their other plant collections on their website and sign up for their newsletter to learn of new plant introductions.

Alocasia ‘Jacklyn’




Mandevilla: Tropical Beauties Worth Keeping

mandevillaRecently I was given a mandevilla plant, which is a popular summer bloomer in the DC metro area.  I have always admired these vigorous climbers with bright, large, trumpet-shaped flowers. Usually, I see pink, red, or white blossoms, but there are other colors on the market. Continue reading

The Magical Flowers of Butterfly Pea Plants

In August 2017, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was beautiful and I took many photos. As always the plants that stayed with me were the ones I had not seen before. I remember vines with beautiful pea-like flowers, about 2 inches wide, wrapped around dead trees, which were painted (“art”). The flowers were blue/purple with a yellow inner strip and the green leaves reminded me of Kentucky coffee trees. Obviously it was a tropical vine in the legume family (Fabaceae) but I could not find a sign. Later when I got home, I stumbled across the same plant on Facebook only with cobalt blue flowers. Its name, I learned, was butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea).

The Facebook post said the flowers were used for an herbal tea. I had no idea this pretty vine had herbal qualities.  I researched online and discovered that the cobalt blue variety is well-known in Asian countries. The flowers are dried and sold in bags but one can purchase a powdered form or an extract. The flowers can be brewed alone or combined with other herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, and mint. The blue comes from anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds, similar to blueberries.

When brewed with water the tea is cobalt blue. However, when an acid is added, such as lemon juice, the tea turns purple. When an alkaline liquid such as roselle tea is added, the tea turns red. Apparently butterfly pea tea acts like a litmus strip, the color of the drink changes with the pH of what it is mixed with. This does not affect the taste but has transformed butterfly tea into a novelty cocktail drink. The cobalt blue flowers also are used to dye food such as custards, puddings, rice dishes, and sticky rice.

Butterfly pea is native to Africa. Here in Virginia it would be grown as an annual. The vine grows rapidly in the summer and needs support so an arbor is ideal but would be interesting to try it in a hanging basket. As a member of the pea family, the plant fixates nitrogen and is good for the soil. The vine can take full sun to light shade and is drought tolerant. There are several varieties, some have cobalt blue, lavender, or white flowers in single or double flowered forms.

This is not an easy plant to find here in Virginia but it seems that once you have the plant, you can let some flowers go to seed and collect the pods for next year. Last week I was in Florida and toured a friend’s garden. He was growing this plant in a large container with a trellis. I was so excited to see the butterfly pea again and explained how I was interested in growing it. He had a plastic bag full of the seed pods and offered me some. I took a handful of pods which by now had dried and split open and brought them home. This week, I plan to sow the seeds outside and grow butterfly pea plants in order to experiment with novelty drinks!