Favorite Tropical Plants
With a sunny window and a little patience, you can grow your own.
If you’re a gardener who enjoys a challenge, it’s time to go tropical! Laurelynn and Byron Martin, co-owners of Logee’s Plants for Home & Garden in Danielson, Connecticut, and authors of the book Growing Tasty Tropical Plants, have been helping people grow oranges, lemons, dragon fruit and more in their homes for years.
You might think these fruits thrive only in mild, sunny climates. But with the increasing number of ornamentals and dwarf varieties on the market, it’s easier than ever to grow your favorite exotic fruit.
We’re profiling some of our top choices from Laurelynn and Byron’s book here, but you can pick up a copy for yourself for more ideas. With sunlight and the right container, you’ll have a whole new take on what a houseplant can be.
Dennis Albert Richardson
If you’re just getting into tropical plants, lemons are a good place to start. They grow 3 to 5 feet, but you can also grow them in a hanging basket. Use the fruits as they ripen, or leave them on the tree to harvest throughout the year.
Why we love it: It’s easy! The Meyer cultivar is one of the most popular; its fruits produce almost twice as much juice as ordinary lemons. Ponderosa is also a good option, because it bears fruit easily.
Yes, you can grow your own spices, too. Pepper is a natural for containers. After a few years in a pot, one plant will produce an abundance of peppercorns. The woody vine grows up to 2 to 3 feet with support and pruning.
Why we love it: Black peppers fruit most of the year, stopping for only a month or two in winter when light levels are low.
This is one of the most fun tropical plants to grow, but you’ll need a little patience. It takes two years for a pineapple to start producing fruit, and along the way it will need lots of heat and direct sunlight. The plant will grow 2 to 3 feet and can bloom or fruit anytime throughout the year.
Why we love it: What’s not to love? Pineapple is sweet and juicy—and it just looks cool to have one growing in your house. Look for cultivars such as Royale or Smooth Cayenne for best results.
With its five-pointed-star shape, this sweet fruit can grow up to 4 inches across and 7 inches long. In the tropics, trees grow up to 30 feet tall, and one has been known to feed an entire village. Indoors, they grow up to 5 feet with pruning.
Why we love it: The fruit’s shape alone is enough to make it a must-have. As a bonus, it’s loaded with good-for-you antioxidants and flavonoids.
Not only does it have spectacular large fruits, it perfumes the air with fragrant nighttime blossoms. It grows 4 to 6 feet, with sprawling vines, so you’ll need a pot trellis to hold it up. If you grow it indoors, move it outside in spring so it can bloom in summer and then fruit in fall. The inside of the fruit is soft and sweet, like a cross between a pear and kiwi.
Why we love it: The scales on the fruit, which give this plant its name, are something to see. Keep in mind that when it flowers, you will need to hand-pollinate.
( Citrus myrtifolia)
One of the most popular ornamental fruits, this compact plant, growing 2 to 4 feet high, fits nicely on a windowsill. Give it lots of sunlight and keep it on the dry side to avoid root rot. The fruit is a bit sour, but it will stay on the branch for months.
Why we love it: Its tight growth habit makes it perfect for bonsai culture. You can keep it in a small container for years.
You’ve probably heard of passionflower vine, with its gorgeous tropical blooms, but did you know these vines produce fruit as well? Most varieties need cross-pollination to fruit, so indoor plants will require hand-pollination. This woody vine grows 3 to 6 feet with support. The fruit is tart, light and tangy.
Why we love it: The blooms before the fruit are stunning! Each flower lasts only for a day, but they’re worth it.
If you want to grow these emerald beauties, avoid the temptation of starting your own from an avocado pit. While it’s a fun experiment, the plants hardly ever fruit. Instead, invest in a tree, which will grow to be 3 to 6 feet tall. The fruits need up to six months to ripen, so be patient!
Why we love it: It’s a handsome ornamental plant, with glossy leaves and attractive fruit. The Day cultivar is by far the easiest to grow in a small pot.
As the Martins write, “Growing your own bananas in a pot is always a conversation starter, but harvesting the small bananas is even more impressive.” The plants have a distinctly tropical look, growing 3 to 6 feet tall with large leaves. Make sure you give them enough food, water and sunlight for best results.
Why we love it: It’s so much fun to pick your own bananas! Good cultivars to try include Dwarf Lady Finger, with small, finger-sized bananas, or Vente Cohol, the earliest-fruiting banana.
Nana is the cultivar you’re going to want to buy. Most pomegranates need winter dormancy with chilling temperatures to promote bud formation, but this one doesn’t, making it a prime choice for indoor culture. It grows 1 to 3 feet in a pot, so it’s small enough to put on a large windowsill. The tart, 1- to 2-inch fruits ripen from green to red.
Why we love it: It’ll tolerate dry soil and air, so you don’t have to worry about watering it all the time, though you shouldn’t let it wilt. The size makes it ideal for small spaces.