Photo Gallery: The amazing colors and patterns of tropical foliage
Many plants in Hawaii produce spectacular foliage with brilliant colors and intricate patterns. The leaves are so beautiful that sometimes they actually look more interesting than flowers. This photo gallery shows a small collection of tropical plants that are known for their colorful foliage. You may recognize a few of the plants as popular ornamental houseplants for sale at nurseries on the mainland. In Hawaii, with the year-round warm and wet environment, these plants thrive happily outdoors and some can grow into big trees! You can see them growing in the wild or in gardens across the islands.
The plants in this photo gallery were photographed at the hub author’s property in lower Puna on the Big Island. The photos were taken after a heavy rain shower, so some of the plants look wet which can make their colors more vibrant and intense. Enjoy and be inspired by nature’s amazing color palette!
Why are some leaves pure green while others have white and yellow patterns, or even a mix of psychedelic red and purple blotches all over? Color variegation is the answer. There are many causes of color variegation in the plant world: from the genetic makeup of the plant to a lack of chlorophyll pigment in the leaf tissues to some form of plant mutation due to disease or years of cultivation practice.
Ti, croton, bromeliad and coleus are at the top of the list of tropical plants in Hawaii that are known for their stunning variegated foliage and varieties.
Ti (Cordyline fruiticosa) is an ornamental plant that is known for its incredible colorful leaves. The leaf color and pattern are unique with no two ti plants ever looking exactly alike! Ti grows throughout the Hawaiian islands and has a very close tie with Hawaiian culture. Traditionally, ti leaf has been used to thatch the roof of houses and wrap foods like fish or taro root for cooking in a fire pit. Hula dancers wear skirts and leis made of woven fresh ti leaves. Local Hawaiians often plants ti plants around their houses for spiritual protection and good luck. Ti produces small fragrant white and purple flowers that mature into berry-like red fruits. Ti leaves are very popular in flower arrangements at weddings and ceremonies in Hawaii.
Bromeliad (Bromeliaceae family) is one of the most diverse and highly adaptable exotic plants in the world. In Hawaii, they can be found growing densely in trees in the rainforest! Their attractive foliage comes in a wide variety of size, shape, color and pattern. Bromeliad leaves can feel smooth or waxy or velvety when you touch them. But be careful: some bromeliad have razor sharp serrated leaves that will shred your fingers! Bromeliad is also known as a mosquito breeding haven in Hawaii since the plant stores little pools of rainwater at the leaf base. Coqui frogs also love to make their home inside many bromeliads. Did you know that pineapples belong to the bromeliad family?
Croton (Codiaeum variegatum) is another popular ornamental plant. Botanically classified as an evergreen shrub, however, in Hawaii it can grow into a 15-20 ft tree! There are several hundred varieties. Croton is probably the most widely recognized tropical plants, its variegated foliage is ablaze with many different colors: green, white, yellow, orange, red, pink, maroon, purple, and dark blackish brown. The color variegation usually occurs along the leaf’s veins and margins. Some croton varieties have broad or oval leaves; others have linear or spiral leaves. Croton is known to have the ability to “adjust” their foliage colors in response to the amount and duration of sunlight exposure.
Most gardens in Hawaii have coleus (Solenostemon sp.) growing. In the tropical climate, it self-seeds freely, spreads like a weed and even grows in full sun! Coleus is very easy to propagate. It’s a fast growing perennial and some varieties can grow into large shrubs up to 6-8 ft tall. Gardeners love coleus for their beautiful variegated leaves, sharp contrasting colors, shades and hues. Coleus has been reported to induce happiness and uplifting emotions in human with their vibrant colors. So, next time when you feel sad and blue, just stare at a coleus in your garden and you may find a renewed sense of joy!
ABOUT THIS HUB
The author’s favorite plant in his garden is the Hapu'u or Hawaiian Tree Fern (Cibotium glaucum). It does not have variegated foliage but he just loves its graceful green fronds. All photos were taken with a SamsungDigimax 301 3.2MP Digital Camera.
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