We’ve heard the term “tropical” a couple of times (tropical plants or tropical climate) – it’s usually associated with “warmth.” But, not many people know that trees can actually grow in such conditions. Well, that’s why we have “tropical trees.”

What are Tropical Trees?

Tropical Trees in the rainforest

Tropical Trees in the rainforest

Tropical trees are specially adapted to thrive in wet and hot climates, even places that can get really dry – the term “tropical” is not just fancy. For instance, in dense rainforests, you can see trees growing very fast and getting to impressive heights – this is usually because they compete for sunlight with other plants. 

Even more, a lot of tropical trees come with leaves with pointed tips, but that’s not just for aesthetics. This feature allows water to easily pour off where there’s a heavy downpour. 

Just like trees in temperate regions have multiple uses, so do those in the tropics. They provide ornamental beauty, food, fuel, lumber, shade, and lots more. Tropical trees include many popular fruit-bearing trees that are commercially cultivated far beyond their native regions. They also include massive shade species that sustain whole ecosystems deep in rainforests.

But, you’re most likely not reading this from a rainforest. 

Can you grow tropical trees in the UK?

Many tropical trees and plants are hardier than you might think – they can not only survive cold temperatures but also thrive in the British climate. But, they need to be watered regularly, which shouldn’t be an issue.

That said, let’s look at some popular tropical trees. We’re going to be grouping so it doesn’t become overwhelming.

Tropical Palm Trees

Palm trees are one of the first things that come to mind when you think of the topics. Even more, they are one of the most widespread tropical trees. 

There are many kinds of palm trees – around 3000 species in the Arecaceae family. Also, palms can grow in different habitats, including deserts, coasts, and rainforests. 

More so, palms have a native range that lies between the 44th parallel north and the 44th parallel south – they can also be cultivated beyond this range. If we talk about human livelihood, palm trees rank pretty high on the list in their importance and value – only behind grasses.

Cocos nucifera, or coconut palm, is one of the best-known palm trees. Even though it is native to the western Pacific, it can be cultivated in different tropical regions around the world. Another palm, though lesser-known, is the spindle palm – critically endangered and prevalent in the Mascarene Islands of the Indian Ocean.

Another example is Chrysalidocarpus lutescens – the areca palm. This is an elegant palm but you’re most likely going to see it indoors, adding a touch of elegance to the room. It has numerous stems emerging from its base to produce arching fronds that resemble bamboo.

The only palm that’s native to Europe is Chamaerops humilis. It has evergreen fan-shaped leaves that give any garden an exotic focal point. We also have Cordyline australis or cabbage palm – a stunning foliage plant with variegated and spiky leaves that have bold cream margins and stripes. 

Tropical Fruit Trees

Tropical Trees and a waterfall

Tropical Trees and a waterfall

Native to southern Asia, Mangifera indica – mango trees – are one of the best-known tropical fruit trees. These massive trees are cultivated in warm climates and can get up to 60 feet tall and 50 feet wide – this makes them also suitable for very large yards.

Another good example of a tropical fruit tree is Carica papaya or papaya tree, native to South America. Just like mango trees, they can be grown privately or commercially in subtropical and tropical regions around the world.

Under this category, we also have Averrhoa carambola – the star fruit tree – native to the tropical forests of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India. However, this tree is extinct in the wild.

Even though the pods of Theobroma cacao (cocoa trees) are not technically fruits, they are still one of the well-known tropical trees. Found majorly within 20 degrees of the equator, cacao trees are native to Mesoamerica. Though they can live for over 200 years, cacao trees only produce cocoa beans within their first 25 years.

Tropical Shade Trees

Based on the soils and climate in their native habitats, tropical trees can be deciduous or evergreen. With abundant rainfall, like we have in the rainforest, comes more evergreen trees. But, when it’s the dry season, trees drop their leaves until it starts raining again – this helps them survive during the dry period.

Where are we going with this? 

It’s not uncommon for people to use these types of trees to shade parks and buildings from the hot sub. They can also be used for their seasonal flowering displays.

A good example is the Ficus spp. or fig trees, which can get up to enormous mature sizes. Other tropical trees that fit into this category include macaranga, seagrape, African tulip tree, umbrella tree, rainbow gum, Moreton Bay chestnut, and barringtonia

Tropical Flowering Trees

Aside from being used to cast shade, a lot of tropical trees are admired for the seasonal flowers they display. Some are grown majorly for ornamental purposes – for example, jacaranda, orchid tree, golden pendas, silk floss tree, coral tree, gold medallion tree, shower/cassia tree, trumpet tree, African tulip tree, and royal poinciana.

Also, coupled with these beautiful flowers, some tropical trees offer colourful and architecturally exciting fruits as well. Typical examples include Asoka, lily of the valley tree, cecropia, barringtonia, and sausage tree. You can also see deciduous shade trees like royal poinciana, coral tree, kapok, rain tree, and baobab.

Other Tropical Trees

Even though you find most eucalyptus trees in Australia, Eucalyptus deglupta is the one species that grows in the rain forests of the Philippine island of Mindanao, New Guinea, and Indonesia. It is also notable for its multicoloured bark, and it is the only Eucalyptus species found in the Northern Hemisphere.

Native to the Amazon rainforest, another tropical tree we have to mention is Hevea brasiliensis, the rubber tree. Thanks to its milky sap known as latex, this tree is used to produce natural rubber. Also, it is cultivated for commercial purposes in Southeast Asia and in Africa, and it can live up to a hundred years.

Another notable tropical tree is Erythrina variegata – the coral tree, native to tropical Asia. Also referred to as tiger claw and Lenten tree, it grows from 20 to 40 feet wide and 60 to 80 feet tall. Even more, its leaves have three diamond-shaped leaflets with each getting to around 6 inches long in early spring or late winter. 

Well, there you have it! You now know what tropical trees are and even some common examples.



Last Modified: June 8, 2022