En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - March 24, 2005

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Water Gardens, Cacti and Succulents, Ferns
Title: Tropical-looking landscape in Austin, TX
Answered by: Joe Marcus and Nan Hampton


I'd like to have a tropical-looking landscape in my front yard. What plants would you recommend for Austin, Texas? I would prefer plants that can stay outside year-round, but will take suggestions on any kind of plant that will thrive outdoors in full to partial sun. I'd also like to know if bird-of-paradise is a good option. I saw a lot of them planted in the ground in San Diego, and their winters seemed just about as cold as ours.


There are several suggestions for native Texas plants to give your yard a tropical look. For instance, you might consider:

Palmetto (Sabal minor),
Texas palm (S. mexicana),
Spanish dagger (Yucca treculeana),
ferns such as cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), and
heartleaf hibiscus (Hibiscus martianus).

We wouldn't really recommend Bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae) for Austin since it is non-native (from South Africa), but also because we are too far north and too dry for it. A hard winter would do it in. Austin's summers are probably just as big a problem for many non-native tropical plants as its winters. Our summers are so hot and dry that many tropical plants succumb to desiccation. Likewise, our winters are not usually very humid so that desiccation, as well as freezing, are problems for evergreen tropicals. The tropical look you are trying to achieve will require more maintenance and resources if you use non-native tropical plants.

You might try visiting some of the better (locally-owned) garden centers in the area. The tropical look is popular and the Austin garden centers are used to accommodating such requests and stock plants, both native and non-native, for that specific purpose. You can find a list of native plant nurseries in Texas on the Wildflower Center web page and Native Plant and Seed Sources for Texas from the Texas Parks & Wildlife web page.

Finally, If you were interested in creating a water garden, you would have a number of choices for "tropical-looking" native plants. For instance, you could consider:

pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata),
one of the Texas arrowheads, such as duck-potato (Sagittaria latifolia),
one of the Texas horsetails, such as field horsetail (Equisetum arvense),
water lilies, such as American water lily (Nympaea odorata) or the yellow water lotus (Nelumbo lutea),
and larger plants such as marshmallow hibiscus

The Austin Pond Society web page has links to regional water gardening nurseries where you might find these recommended native plants.


More Water Gardens Questions

Plants for wet soil in turtle enclosure in Virginia
September 03, 2010 - We recently installed a turtle pond in our backyard in Arlington, VA. We built an enclosure around the pond to protect the turtle from raccoons and herons, and left some open area for the turtle to g...
view the full question and answer

Note on pond over oak roots from Round Rock TX
December 23, 2012 - Thanks very much to Barbara for answering my question about the live oaks - covering parts of their root systems with a pond. Your answer inspired discussion, and we changed our pond plan and moved th...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen perennials for a pond bank in Texas
June 18, 2015 - We want evergreen perennial plants for the banks of our small pond. The banks are eroding and we need to help keep them strong. We have ducks in the pond and lots of turtles. We would love something ...
view the full question and answer

Water-loving native plants for Pottstown, PA
September 11, 2009 - I live about 40 miles west of Philadelphia. I am looking for a water absorbing evergreen tree/bush/plant that I could plant in the rear of my yard. We get a small stream every good rain and the back...
view the full question and answer

Plants for NY wetland yard
April 30, 2011 - We have standing water in our yard for the entire spring and sometimes summer if it's a rainy one. We dug a ditch and found that our yard has a natural spring, which explains a lot. I need to know ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center