Tropical Plants with Really Big Leaves

My Garden Life
June 2, 2021
Table of Contents
When we think of a tropical garden, one word comes to mind: green. Enormous green leaves, almost prehistoric in their shapes and sizes, drape the rainforest canopy, sway in gentle sea breezes on equatorial islands, and frame Florida pools. Large-leafed plants like giant rhubarb, banana tree and tree philodendron are at the center of tropical gardens around the world.

Plants Have Big Leaves to Stay Cool

Scientists have long known that, the plants from humid and hot areas tend to have the biggest leaves, while those in arid or cold climes sport smaller ones. But it is only in the last few years that it has been determined exactly why that is.
Large leaves with lots of green surface area heat up more quickly and provide a greater expanse for photosynthesis. But too much heat will burn and damage the leaf’s surface. Plants cool themselves through evaporation. This strategy is available in the wet tropical environment but not in equally hot, but dry zones, like the desert, where plant leaves tend to be much smaller. Also, those large leaves are much harder to keep warm and so are much more susceptible to cold nights.

Knowing why many tropical plants produce such large leaves can help us understand how to take care of them, be they in a tropical garden or growing in our home as houseplants. They need a consistently warm and humid environment to grow and thrive.

List of Large-Leaf Tropical Plants

If you are considering putting in a tropical garden, using beds or pots, you will want to grow some of these large-leaved beauties. Here are a few of our favorites:
Large planting of canna plants with orange flowers. Big dumb cane plant big, beautiful leaves of the giant rhubarb plant
Canna Lily Dumb Cane Giant Rhubarb
banana tree in the landscape near a house Taro or elephant ear plant in the landscape Tree philodendron in the landscape
Banana Tree Taro or Elephant Ear Tree Philodendron
close up image of monstera leaves strelitzia plant in the landscape Schefflera plant in the landscape
Monstera Strelitzia Schefflera
Most of these plants will grow year-round outdoors only in the warmest of the USDA plant hardiness zones. But many are also popular houseplants that can spend colder months indoors and the summer outside in a sunny spot.
If you do plan on moving some of the large-leaf tropical plants in and out in the house with the seasons, remember to plant them in a pot that is easy to move.
wooden box planter with purple and white petunias


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