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Photo Gallery: The amazing colors and patterns of tropical foliage

Updated on September 17, 2017
punacoast profile image

The author lives in a quiet seaside community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler, and photographer.

Croton | Source

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!

Coleus | Source
Persian Shield
Persian Shield | Source
Ti Plant
Ti Plant | Source
Heliconia | Source


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 Plant
Ti Plant | Source
Ti Plant
Ti Plant | Source


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.

Ti Plant
Ti Plant | Source
Bromeliad | Source


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?

Bromeliad | Source
Bromeliad | Source
Bromeliad | Source


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.

Croton | Source
Croton | Source
Croton | Source


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!

Coleus | Source
Coleus | Source
Coleus | Source
Coleus and Persian Shield
Coleus and Persian Shield | Source
Ginger | Source
Hibiscus | Source
Song of India
Song of India | Source
Hapu'u Tree Fern
Hapu'u Tree Fern | Source


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.

All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2011 Viet Doan (punacoast)


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    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      11 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Aloha Katie! Most of plants featured in this article can be easily propagated from stem cuttings. Cut a stem 4-6 inches long, trim off some leaves (to reduce moisture loss) and plant it in a pot filled with good potting soil. You can dip the stem's cut end in a root hormone powder before planting, as an option, to stimulate root sprouting. Here in Hawaii, with plenty of rain and fertile soil, I don't need to use root hormone and can just stick the cuttings directly into the ground and they all grow happily! Ti, croton, coleus are very easy to grow from cuttings.

    • profile image


      11 months ago

      Beautiful photos...Do these types of plants propagate easily? If so, can you point me to the best site you have found to do so?

      Thank you

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      18 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thanks Alexson! I appreciate your comments. So glad you enjoy the photos. I'm working on a following-up article about plants with unusual leaves and flowers found in Hawaii. Aloha!

    • mixlikes profile image


      18 months ago from SCOTTSDALE

      Great collection of these plants photographs! Thank for sharing with us. I really appreciate you.

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      19 months ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thanks for your lovely comment SrkWikipad! I believe you have all of these beautiful plants in India too. Aloha!

    • SrkWikipad profile image


      19 months ago from Kolkata, West Bengal , India

      It's Such a beautiful Picture inside

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      3 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thank you Jim for your kind comments. I'm glad the hub brings you pleasure reading. Aloha!

    • Jim Barghini profile image

      Jim Barghini 

      3 years ago from Eagan, Miinesota

      Thanks for posting your words and such visual finery!

    • Rangoon House profile image


      3 years ago from Australia

      Admiring your photographs was like walking through my own garden, but you've captured the stunning tropical plants so beautifully. It was a pleasure to visit.

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      4 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thanks Johnson for your kind words. So grateful you enjoyed the hub. I'm working on another hub on "weird" looking tropical flora. Aloha!

    • profile image

      Johnson Obateru 

      4 years ago

      It has really been a useful, awesome, beautiful and interesting view! Thank you

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      5 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thanks mgeorge1050! So glad you enjoy the photos. Aloha!

    • mgeorge1050 profile image


      5 years ago from West Georgia

      Terrific photos, very colorful and bright.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      8 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Aloha Movie Master! Thanks so much for your wonderful comments. I would love to see the flowers in your countryside English garden, especially the sweet peas. Happy spring!

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Wow, stunning photos and interesting descriptions, thoroughly enjoyed reading.

      Thank you and voted up.

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      8 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Aloha Claudia! Great, I'm glad you also have these wonderful plants in Mexico to enjoy. We're so lucky aren't we?

      Aloha no mac salad! Your name makes me laugh, very funny! Shiso is one of my favorite herbs and you're right, it is a cousin of the coleus, as they both belong to the mint family! Mind boggling isn't it? Thank you for your very kind comments.

      Aloha Simone! Good to see you again! It's so bizarre that most of these plants do produce flowers but they're not as showy and colorful as the leaves. Except for the bromeliad. Its flower is amazing and often looks like alien from another planet!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Goodness gracious, most FLOWERS are not so interesting! What an amazing collection of images. Thank you so much for sharing them!

    • profile image

      no mac salad 

      8 years ago

      "Howzit" punacoast, Thanks for the hub, good to see the Big Island still has is rural charm. Great photographs and narratives. You have a good eye, as you fill the frame with a close up of what you want to convey to the viewer. Your narratives are authoritative, actually, you sound like a botanist but easier to understand. Coleus looks like shiso, the herb used in Japanese cooking. So these photos are after a rain shower, it must have been a little cloudy, but the color still pops, a testament to the plants true color and your observations. Thanks. . .

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 

      8 years ago from Mexico

      WAW!!!!! You have some amazing photographs in this hub! Many of this plants are also present in Mexico but I had never seen them as beautiful as today. They look surreal. Thanks!

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      8 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Hi oceansnsunsets! Thank you for your wonderful comments. Nature is amazing and we're so grateful to be surrounded by its beauty.

    • punacoast profile imageAUTHOR

      Viet Doan 

      8 years ago from Big Island, Hawaii

      Thanks Au fait. I'm happy the plant info is useful and interesting for you. Aloha!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      8 years ago from North Texas

      Very informative and interesting. Beautiful photos!

      Voting you UP and useful!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      8 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Wow, beautiful leaves and greenery. I love tropical plants, they never cease to amaze me. The colors in just leaves alone is mind boggling. Well done, and great captures you got there!


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