Want to spice up your backyard or pool area with a tropical flair using hardy native plants that return every year?  Here are just a few to add to the mix:

  • Bigleaf magnolia Magnolia macrophylla or Umbrella magnolia Magnolia tripetala — the leaves are gigantic, the bloom beautiful and it’s a magnificent tree in the right place.
  • Pawpaw, Asimina triloba — with a larger than average leaf and edible fruit that is said to taste like a banana, this smallish tree can also colonize an area and in addition is a host plant for many swallowtail butterflies. Butterflies and fruit! What’s not to love?
  • Grasses — From prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) to little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) to the many varieties of switchgrass (Panicum spp.), there is always a native ornamental grass to suit your needs!  Too many varieties and cultivars to list, you’re sure to win with any of these.
  • Helianthus salicifolius — While most varieties are known to be quite large, the ‘Low Down’ is perfect for a smaller area, reaching not more than 2-feet by 2-feet. It has bright yellow rays with brown center disks and attracts birds and butterflies to boot!
  • Eastern agave or false aloe, Manfreda virginica just might be one of my favorite plants. The base is small and is a softer form of an agave plant you might see in the southwest, but it sends up a 4-5 foot stalk with flowers that then become really interesting seed pods.
  • Shining sumac, Rhus copalina ‘Lanham’s Purple’, an outstanding form of native shining sumac, is used at the Juniper Hills Aquatic Park. With purple new growth that darkens to burgundy green over the summer and changing shades of purple, red, orange, and yellow in the fall, it is a wonderful plant for full sun. There are many more sumac varieties and species to choose from as well!
  • Hibiscus, Hibiscus moscheutos! Yes, native hibiscus or rose mallow! Generally available in white and/or pink, this plant makes a great mass planting.
  • Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa or really any of the milkweeds will give you color and are the host plant for the monarchs.
  • Lonicera sempervirens, trumpet honeysuckle is vigorous, prolific and vibrant, which helps attract hummingbirds and butterflies as well!  Perfect for a trellis, pergola or fence.
  • Amsonia hubritchii, or threadleaf bluestar — talk about texture! While this plant does bloom, the texture is amazing, the plant goes slightly yellow green to green and glows in the garden.  In fall, the amazing tones of yellow and orange combined with the texture make quite a statement.

You can get a tropical, lush look by always making sure you have color, texture, and a full garden. You can also opt for no color and go all texture with variegated variety foliage plants and varying types of foliage. As always, plant the right plant in the right place and do your research. Enjoy your tropical oasis and read a book, grab your beverage of choice, and kick up your feet. Happy summer!