Growing exotic tropical plants: a challenge or a stress relief?

An alien in your private Universe

From Webster online dictionary:
"Exotic: Introduced from another country: not native to the place where found; foreign, alien; strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual..."

From our Guestbook: "The Gardens are so beautiful that I can't comprehend the magnitude of the experience of just being there..."

Many people who visit our nursery, garden or just browse our website are impressed with the beauty of the tropical flowers and fruit, rare unusual species that we've found and collected... Of course the plant collection you see at TopTropicals is a result of a hard work and many challenges, but believe it or not - it's not that hard to make it happen in a smaller scale! You can create your own Paradise - and we can help you. See how simple it is, follow a few steps, be patient, and you can have your own little Garden of Exotics in (almost) no time, while... having FUN! Do you have any doubts yet? Let's see...


Concern #1: Why do I need to mess with this?

One of our employees asked for help in choosing a plant as a gift.
"I want to give it to my boyfriend. He's having some problems now and is feeling depressed, so I want to make him happy."
After we made some plant suggestions for an apartment environment, we asked if it would be better to re-pot the selected plant into a nice-looking and bigger pot.
"No, I'll take the new pot and a bag of soil with me. Let HIM do it. I want him to get involved in something and get excited."

Many people who ever dealt with plants say that gardening is a good therapy. This is a very true statement, and we can tell you more: gardening is HEALING.

Life is an every day stress. Hard work, lack of time, bills, grumpy husband and nagging wife, teen kids sucking your blood, stupid boss doing the same, and... no appreciation. Nobody. Ever. Never appreciates your efforts. And you are talking about getting more headache - exotic plants to take care of? Gimme some rest!

You've seen so many books offering to help you to cope with a stress. You've spent (how much?) a fortune on therapists and counselors who promised you to work out a solution for your problems... and you are still there. New day, same crap. Should you call your friend (who's busy struggling with his/her own crap), get another shrink opinion, get more sleeping pills and of course - antidepressants? Or maybe just another pack of beer to cool off... You can do it. But if you are starting to believe that "another cigarette won't solve my problem", you should try something different.

If you are old and wise enough, you'd realize the world won't change (unless you're the one who grows a Real Big Garden of Paradise). Psychiatrists say that if you can't change the problem, you should change your attitude towards it. There are things that can change our vision. One of them is a LIVE PLANT.

Buy a cute little plant and watch it grow. See how it thrives and enjoys life no matter what. How it's longing toward the sunlight hoping that some day it will reach its maturity, blossom and fruit! Create your own little oasis, feel yourself a Creator of it and... feel much different about the world around you.


Concern #2: I don't have time!

Everyone who seriously considers to help you with your emotional problems, would ask you a question: do you have a hobby?

"What are you talking about? I'm busy and tired enough not to be able to do my dishes every day!" This is probably true. You come from work exhausted and all you can do is dump yourself in a cozy chair and watch another TV show... If this is enough to make you feel content, this is fine and you can stop reading at this point. (How did you get to this page, anyway?)

If you feel something wrong about another TV night - try to do something creative. Try to get acquainted with the Plant World and see how different you feel pretty soon. If you like the feeling, go further, learn more and some day you won't be able to stop yourself from getting another "baby", watching a little bud open, and your garden, no matter how small or large it is, will be your special retreat where you can charge your batteries for another day, and for another year, and for the lifetime.

There is always time for things in our life. But we chose those things that we have time for. Amazingly, busy people very often suffer from... boredom. Boredom leads to apathy and indifference, which is a fertile ground for a depression. It's not easy sometimes to get yourself involved in something new. Especially in such complicated subjects like botany. When looking at endless lists of weird botanical names and terms, it seams impossible to ever learn thus stuff... but you don't have to! We felt the same way when we started our tropical gardening experience. Within just a few months, we knew hundreds of latin names without learning them, simply by dealing with plants - the names stuck to our memory naturally! You don't have to go to school for becoming a gardener (unless you chose a botany or horticulture career). Gardening is a joy of life, it is one of those hard jobs that brings you fun!

It will be worth a while after all, if you can gain from your hobby:

- Therapy. You will have a special retreat that will always be there for you. No matter what happens, once you start "magic gestures" of watering, trimming, repotting, simply touching a plant - you'll feel a strong energy inflow, charging your body and spirit. All your worries and miseries will fade away if not completely go, at least during the time of your gardening session, and most likely this little horticulture class will help you look at your problem from a better angle.

- Healing. Watch your back when lifting heavy pots or soil bags, but... you can fix it as well! Regular gardening sessions will keep your body exercised, your muscles toned up, and your mind in peace.

- Appreciation. Who ever appreciates your efforts? We mean, besides the school "best student of the year" diploma or monthly company bonus? If the list of your fans also includes your husband and kids, you ARE already a happy person and most likely already a gardener, sharing this fun with the rest of your family. If not, then it's time to treat yourself. The plants will greatly appreciate your care, not less than a pet dog or cat. Unlike humans, plants are thankful. You'll see it and feel it and will get a -

- Reward. Whether it's a tropical lush foliage, beautiful colorful flower, fantastic aroma blossom or delicious fruit.

- Practical use - can't be underestimated: from organically grown fruit (taste is no comparison with those bought at the store!) to making extra cash by selling jasmine rooted cuttings on Ebay. BTW, this is how TopTropicals started! Just like that. Speaking of profit: we can buy plants from you.

- Collector's pride. Have you ever owned something rare? An old coin, a cool bike, an heritage antique? Then you know how it feels! Feels good. After all, your neighbors will envy your different plants and a perfume tree at the front yard. Like it or not, you'll get visitors to stare at your rarities!

Jasminum sambac

Concern #2: What color is my thumb?

You'll be surprised when we tell you: there is not really such thing as a green thumb. We are all born with the skin color fingers. But you may "paint" your thumb any color you want, including green. Being a good gardener is not a talent given us from God. It is rather a potential ability that can be planted in our heart, cultivated and finally become a "given" feature. Before planting a plant, plant LOVE inside of you - this will help a lot to get your thumb green. And vice versa: even if you are just an angry grumbler, dealing with plants can help you to become a better person.

On the other hand, "green thumb" is pretty much a materialistic knowledge rather than a spiritual inclination or magic gift. All you have to do in order to eventually get your thumb green - follow these 10 simple rules:

  1. Remember that a plant is a live creature and it does require attention. Once you learn what it likes and needs, your relationship with it will be as natural as with a cat or dog waiting for you at the doorstep, and not at all as with a stranger.
  2. Relax. Plant is just a live creature as well as you are. It won't bite, but unfortunately it won't talk to you in your language. But it has a language of its own which is not as hard to learn as Chinese or Russian! (See about troubleshooting)
  3. Be open-minded. Be prepared to always learn more. It's helpful, and it's fun too! A Wise Man once said, "When I retire, I'll spend the rest of my days studying... become a student forever!"
  4. Learn basics: soil, water, light requirements. TopTropicals website is helpful, but do not limit yourself with our experience. Visit garden forums, learn from other people experience and make new friends!
  5. Experiment. You have to kill that many plants to be able to make happy a bunch of them. There is always room for sacrifice in this world. Remember that every gardener once was a dummy. The more "rabbits" you cut, the more successful operations you can perform.
  6. Start with simple things. Don't get an expensive fussy plant to start with.
  7. Be attentive and curious. While visiting botanical gardens and nurseries, pay attention in what conditions different plants grow, sun or shade, wet or dry, open space or greenhouse with high humidity and protected from wind, etc. Soon you'll be able to estimate proper conditions yourself by only looking at leaves or growth habit.
  8. Concentrate: when you notice a problem with a plant (yellowing leaves, drooping branches, insect damage) - don't go away without action. It's like getting your teeth exam once a year: if you keep it under control, you catch a problem, if let it go - it may be too late and you lose one! Sometimes just a simple watering will help, while ignoring for another day or two will kill the plant.
  9. Patience is a virtue. Due to natural rate of vegetative processes, most plants need time for reacting to your actions. Do not push, let it grow and see if the plant likes this or that.
  10. Talk to your plants, not necessarily out loud! They will telepathically get your message, appreciate your care and will reward you with a nice company and a good mood - always!

Jasminum sambac

Concern #3: I don't have this kind of budget!

1. Nope, it's not cheap!
Every rare thing costs more. It is not necessarily a "supply-and-demand" market where they squeeze the price up taking advantage of a commodity item. Rare means unique, so it must be in limited quantities. This makes the item nearly "hand-crafted" and raises the cost unlike of those produced in quantities. We import rare plants from Thailand and other tropical countries, grow them from seeds for months and years. With all the procedures of export-import, recovering and loss of barerooted plants and long-term maintenance in special conditions - a plant becomes much more expensive than a common annual you buy by trays from Walmart. This is all obvious.

2. Yep, it's good and worth it!
Considering you don't get cheap on soil (remember rule of thumb: make a $50 hole for a $10 plant), participate in the project that you have started by providing a reasonable and recommended care for your new "pets", you will be soon rewarded for your efforts and money with a joy that money can't buy. We mean, you sure can buy a mango fruit from a grocery store for a couple bucks, but it won't give you the same feeling and taste that the fruit from your own tree. Moreover, the more exotic the plant is to your area, the better it will taste to you! If you live in Michigan, the single mango fruit ripened on your windowsill will taste like heaven! (Charge your friends for tasting...).
Think how much you pay for a McDonalds *healthy* dinner-for-two and make your choice.

Concern #4: Will it grow in my area?

Yes or no.

This is the most common question we receive every day from our customers. Will this plant grow in my area?

Unless you live in a tropical/subtropical areas like South Florida, San Diego or Caribbean, most likely, you have to think twice before making a choice of a tropical plant. On the other hand, "tropical climate" means "warm". No freeze. Will indoor conditions be suitable? In most cases, yes. For some plants, you still have to provide a special care like air humidity (mist, humidifier), and most of them will need a lot of light. This can be provided. On our website, we try to share experience of growing tropical plants in non-tropical climate that we learned from our customers from the North.

One of the most impressive feedback we receive from our customers in Russia, who successfully grow tropical fruit trees and many other cold sensitive plants indoors and in greenhouses.

Many new plants that we introduce from Asia and other tropical areas are suitable for South Florida conditions (they've been tested in our garden), and we don't see why they can't be grown in other areas of the US with a mild climate. See below the list of the most exciting exotic plants easy adaptable in the Southern US (zones 9-10).

When we just started plant export to Russia, somebody made a pessimistic comment: "Why do you try to introduce a tropical creature into a non-tropical environment? It's against nature! It won't work! Don't try to be a God!"

First of all, why not to try. You don't ask yourself this question when you decide to set up an aquarium with tropical fish, do you? This is a perfect model of a miniature Universe created by You. Same thing with tropical plants.
Secondly, all traditional houseplants came to us from Tropics and enjoy their new home environment, giving people from all over the world joy and beauty. Rare (exotic) tropical plants - just a fresh addition to the existing selection.

Those who are lucky to live in a frost-free areas, should consider taking advantage of it and grow more exotic plants. One of us lived in Hawaii for a few years and was surprised how many backyards were sealed with concrete... It seemed logical that in Hawaiian Paradise everybody would appreciate the ability of easy growing tropical beauties! As usual, we only appreciate something when we lack it. This is why we have so many customers from New York, Minnesota, Chicago, Canada, Russia-Syberia, you name it - who are performing miracles, making tropical plant to grow and thrive in non-tropical conditions. This must be so much fun!

(See more info about zone-pushing)

Mango tree

Concern #5: Who's gonna maintain all this?

Plant wisely. If you do not overdo your in-ground plantings and use proper species for your yard, the plants will require not more care than a traditional landscape. If you have a sprinkler system that waters your lawn and keeps it green, we don't see why you can't rely on it for watering established exotic plants. The new comer requires special attention only until the root system established well.

Pruning: you may trust your gardener to create a formal trim for your exotic hedge, but... we would leave this fun part for ourselves! After all, this Garden of paradise is for yourself to enjoy, not for your gardener! Leave something for yourself. Don't give away all the stress-relief therapy treatment to others!

Concern #6: I don't have room!

Sounds familiar. Especially when you already have planted so many species, and yet there are more to go, because... you just can't resist getting another new specimen for your collection.

Even if you don't have room left, or have a small yard/apartment at first place, there is always some space that can be filled with a small potted tree or a trellis with a jasmine. Be creative! One single fragrant plant can change your life dramatically.

The problem of limited space hit us sooner that we expected. After the property around our house was fully covered with rare species, we realized it's time to move ahead. We sold the house and bought a big piece of land. It put us in a position when we had to get through a painfull and long process of building a new home, but at least now we have all the room in the world! (well... for a while).

Any landscape suggestions for beginners?

Below is a list of a few selected plants that we suggest for South Florida and other areas with similar climate conditions (winter temperature above freezing).


Michelia champaca - medium size perfume tree, for small yards or potted culture
Cananga fruiticosa - small dwarf tree for potted culture, indoor or patio, great substitute for a large Ylang-Ylang Tree, especially in hurricane zones
Radermachera Kunming - Small tree with cologne-scented flowers and beautiful structural leaves, good for pots or small yards. Hurricane-proof.
Mangifera indica, Mango - varieties Carry, Cogshall, Nam Doc Mai, Mallika
Annona squamosa - Sugar Apple. Fruits in small size and young age.


Wrightia religiosa - very fine foliage and sweet fragrance, a sacred Buddhist plant. Small to large containers.
Aglaia odorata - Chinese Perfume flower, relatively cold hardy. In pots or in the ground.
Nyctanthes arbor-tristis - famous Indian Parijat with night blooming fragrant flowers. Great for Florida landscape! Relatively cold hardy.
Jasminum sambac - many varieties. Perfect container plant. Jasmine tea and fragrance of perfume!


Hiptage bengalensis - Helicopter flowers, unusual shape, very fragrant. Container plant.
Beaumontia grandiflora - Relatively cold hardy vine, very vigorous, beautiful lily-like flowers and huge tropical leaves.
Most of jasmines from our selection, some of them cold-hardy.

See more plants from our selection.

Good luck, watch them growing and enjoy!

Michelia tree


Aglaia odorata