To give a really tropical look there is nothing to beat the Philodendrons, a group of plants that are usually grown for their magnificent leaves, either as house plants or, in warmer areas, outside in the garden. Many of the different species, which come mostly from the tropical Americas, are climbers which find a host tree to climb giving the group the name Philodendron meaning “tree lover”. As they climb their leaves will often get bigger the higher they go. Others species are small plants growing as clumps on the ground such as Philodendron cv “Xanadu” and Philodendron wendlandii or as epiphytes amongst the branches. Some grow in full sun and can make huge clumps such as Philodendron selloum (P. bipinnatifidum) which will stand a surprising amount of cold and frost. Few of the species are grown outside in New Zealand as most are too cold sensitive but we have enough forms to give a very tropical look to the garden.
They cross pollinate to give interestingly variable leafed hybrid plants which many of the named house plants are. Try some of the house plant forms outside as they maybe hardier than you expect. Grow them under trees where the conditions are more even over the winter period. They must have good drainage.
Many people don’t realise that they also have very attractive flowers which are generally cream to white in colour but not always. I had a lovely clumping plant, Philodendron speciosum, which flowered for me before, unfortunately, dying during one of our cold, wet winters. This plant had huge, elongated, heart-shaped leaves and is one of the biggest leafed species but is rather tender. It had two flowers. On the outside it was reddish-green but inside it was the most beautiful shade of carmine-red which to me was quite unexpected as all my others are cream or white. Unfortunately I was too late to be able to pollinate the flower for seed (they generally don’t set seed in NZ). An interesting fact is that the Philodendron flower heats up when it is ready to be pollinated.
If you want to propagate a few try them from cuttings which strike readily.