All About Tropical Bulbs

by Charlie Nardozzi

Charlie Nardozzi
Charlie Nardozzi

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 20 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners. He speaks around the country at flower shows, master gardener groups and horticultural trade shows on gardening topics from roses to tomatoes.

You don't have to visit the subtropics this year to get a taste of the lush foliage and beautiful flowers. Bring the tropics into your yard this summer by planting some unique tropical bulbs. My favorites are what I call the three Cs; calla lilies, canna lilies and caladium. Each adds not only beautiful flowers to the landscape, but attractive foliage as well.

Canna Lilies:

Gardeners in warm summer and mild winter climates know these tropical bulbs well, but even gardeners in cold climates can enjoy them, too, planted in warm spot in your yard or in a container.

Canna lilies are fast growing bulbs that produce up to 5- to 6-foot tall plants with large, banana-like leaves and stalks of colorful flowers. 'Black Night' has stunning, dark red flowers that contrast well with their black foliage. 'Corsica' features delicate, salmon colored flowers with yellow edging. 'Pacific Beauty' jumps out at you with its bright orange colored flowers. If you don't have room in your garden for a tall canna, try some dwarfs. They only grow 2- to 3-feet tall, so fit well in your flower garden or container. 'Golden Lucifer' features yellow flowers with red spots. 'Rhodos' has bright pink flowers that are show stoppers in the garden. 'Madeira' has red flowers with yellow edging.

  1. Cannova® Bronze Scarlet Canna Lily in container

    Cannova Bronze Scarlet Canna Lily makes its tropical mark in your garden earlier than most cannas. It blooms in late spring and continues through frost with abundant rich red blossom...

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    Cannova® Bronze Scarlet Canna Lily Cannova® Bronze Scarlet Canna Lily Canna x generalis
    As low as $22.98 Sale $14.94
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    Cannova Bronze Scarlet Canna Lily makes its tropical mark in your garden earlier than most cannas. It blooms in late spring and continues through frost with abundant rich red blossoms held above plum-colored foliage. An easy-care heat tolerant plant. Cannova Bronze Scarlet Canna Lily is a moisture-lover for full to part sun and quickly creates stunning vertical accents in borders or containers. Hummingbird magnet. (Canna x generalis)
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  2. Cannasol™ Happy Emily Canna Lily

    Cannasol Happy Emily Canna Lily brings bright sparks of tropical color to beds, borders, containers and water gardens with a super compact habit and hummingbird-attracting blooms. S...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Emily Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Emily Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Emily
    As low as $22.98 Sale $14.94
    Per Bag of 2
    Cannasol Happy Emily Canna Lily brings bright sparks of tropical color to beds, borders, containers and water gardens with a super compact habit and hummingbird-attracting blooms. Stunning yellow blossoms are suffused with deep orange flecks and are self-cleaning. Cannasol series canna are certified virus-free. Full sun, moisture retentive soil. (Canna)
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  3. Brilliant Canna Collection

    The Brilliant Canna Collection provides warm, bright flowers that create stunning vertical accents and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Sophisticated, richly colored flowers and...

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    Brilliant Canna Collection Canna Lily Canna
    $91.92 Sale $45.96
    Per Collection of 6
    The Brilliant Canna Collection provides warm, bright flowers that create stunning vertical accents and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Sophisticated, richly colored flowers and foliage are deer resistant and easy to grow – Cannova® Canna Lilies can handle cooler temps and lower lights, and Cannasol™ Canna Lilies are compact, vigorous, and virus-free. Create a tropically inspired display in containers, along water features, or in garden beds in full to part sun, and enjoy stunning flowers blooming from spring all the way to first frost! Collection of 6 plants.
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  4. Cannasol™ Happy Carmen Canna Lily

    Cannasol Happy Carmen Canna Lily is compact, fiery and full of punch. This canna is a versatile, heat and humidity tolerant addition for borders, containers or ponds edge. Clusters o...

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    CannaSol™ Happy Carmen Canna Lily CannaSol™ Happy Carmen Canna Lily Canna CannaSol™ Happy Carmen
    As low as $22.98 Sale $14.94
    Per Bag of 2
    Cannasol Happy Carmen Canna Lily is compact, fiery and full of punch. This canna is a versatile, heat and humidity tolerant addition for borders, containers or ponds edge. Clusters of red flowers attract hummingbirds, and with deep green tropical foliage thats bred to stay very compact, Cannasol Happy Carmen Canna Lily provides a vertical accent without too much legginess. Full sun moisture lover. Virus-free. (Canna)
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Calla Lilies:

If you're looking for the tropical feel, but want a low growing plant, try the calla lilies. Calla lily bulbs only grow 1- to 2-feet tall, have attractive spotted foliage, grow well in part shade and produce colorful, cone-shaped flowers for cutting, containers or the perennial border. If you can't decide on the color calla to buy, check out the 'Purple Rain Mix'. This calla lily variety features purple, white, and pink flowering bulbs all in one mix.

  1. White Florist Calla Lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica, Florist Calla Lily

    'White Florist' Calla Lily is the original Calla from South Africa, where it made its home in the wet soils of stream banks. Here, it's famous for its pristine, white blossoms that a...

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    White Florist Calla Lily White Florist Calla Lily Zantedeschia aethiopica
    As low as $16.98 Sale $11.04
    Per Bag of 1
    'White Florist' Calla Lily is the original Calla from South Africa, where it made its home in the wet soils of stream banks. Here, it's famous for its pristine, white blossoms that are taller than other callas, at up to 3'. The perfectly-fluted flowers are an essential addition to bouquets. Plant 'White Florist' in a big pot on your patio, give it plenty of water and stand back! (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
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  2. Orange Calla Lily Bulb Flame, Zantedeschia, Calla Lily

    'Flame' Calla Lily has fiery orange, fluted blooms with deep red edges and playful, speckled foliage. Though they're mostly known as 'market' bouquet flowers, callas can be used as u...

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    Flame Calla Lily Flame Calla Lily Zantedeschia Flame
    $14.98 Sale $9.74
    Per Bag of 1
    'Flame' Calla Lily has fiery orange, fluted blooms with deep red edges and playful, speckled foliage. Though they're mostly known as 'market' bouquet flowers, callas can be used as unexpected companions in the perennial garden. Try 'Flame' tucked in front of other summer favorites, like dark-blooming dahlias and spiky liatris. (Zantedeschia)
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  3. Calla Lily Bulb Picasso

    A unique bicolor Calla Lily, 'Picasso' is truly a delight to check in with, as the creamy white flowers open up to reveal stunning violet centers. Beautiful in bouquets, be sure to i...

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    Picasso® Calla Lily Picasso® Calla Lily Zantedeschia Picasso®
    As low as $14.98 Sale $9.74
    Per Bag of 1
    A unique bicolor Calla Lily, 'Picasso' is truly a delight to check in with, as the creamy white flowers open up to reveal stunning violet centers. Beautiful in bouquets, be sure to include a piece of its charming, spotted foliage. Easy to grow and deer resistant. (Zantedeschia)
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  4. Calla Bouquet Collection

    Our Calla Bouquet Collection features a selection of florist favorites with magnificent curved blooms in romantic white, pink, and pale purple. Calla lilies are unmistakable and are ...

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    Calla Bouquet Collection Calla Lily Zantedeschia
    $98.86 Sale $49.43
    Per Collection of 7
    Our Calla Bouquet Collection features a selection of florist favorites with magnificent curved blooms in romantic white, pink, and pale purple. Calla lilies are unmistakable and are beloved for elegant flower bouquets. Grow in full sun to part shade and expect abundant flowering throughout the summer – an excellent choice for containers and locations where you can admire your Calla Lilies up close. Plant plenty of these deer resistant, rabbit resistant, and easy to grow flowers for a garden overflowing with classic beauty. Collection of 7 plants.
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Caladiums:

If you have a real shady spot, but still want to jump on the tropical bulb bandwagon, think caladiums. These bulbs are grown primarily for their colorful foliage. The plants grow 12- to 18 inches tall and are well-suited to growing under large shrubs, in a shady spot, or in a container. When growing varieties such as 'Rose Bud', that features bright red leaves with green edging and pink centers, you can brighten up even the darkest spot in your flower garden.

  1. ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium, Caladium Red Flash, Red and Green Foliage

    The large multi-colored leaves of ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium add lush, long-lasting, tropical color to the shade garden. Each heart-shaped, olive green leaf is painted with ...

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    Red Flash Caladium Red Flash Caladium Caladium Red Flash
    $16.98 Sale $11.04
    Per Bag of 3
    The large multi-colored leaves of ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium add lush, long-lasting, tropical color to the shade garden. Each heart-shaped, olive green leaf is painted with a burst of red veining and a splattering of pink freckles that respond with vigor as summer’s heat and humidity build. An exotic foliage accent that’s sure to attract attention – particularly in your containers, beds and borders! (Caladium)
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  2. Candidum Caladium in container

    With green and white heart-shaped leaves, 'Candidum' Caladium is perfect for brightening up a shady spot. Its rich foliage thrives in containers and its moonlight-catching leaves can...

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    Candidum Caladium Candidum Fancy Leaf Caladium Caladium Candidum
    As low as $16.98 Sale $11.04
    Per Bag of 3
    With green and white heart-shaped leaves, 'Candidum' Caladium is perfect for brightening up a shady spot. Its rich foliage thrives in containers and its moonlight-catching leaves can help define walkway borders after sunset. (Caladium 'Candidum')
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  3. Caladium Bulbs Tapestry, Caladium, Fancy Leaf Caladium

    'Tapestry' Caladium is a unique addition to any garden! Gorgeous heart-shaped leaves are deep green with vibrant pink veins and cream-colored centers. A hybrid of the popular Christm...

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    Tapestry Caladium Tapestry Fancy Leaf Caladium Caladium Tapestry
    As low as $16.98 Sale $11.04
    Per Bag of 3
    'Tapestry' Caladium is a unique addition to any garden! Gorgeous heart-shaped leaves are deep green with vibrant pink veins and cream-colored centers. A hybrid of the popular Christmas and Red Flash varieties, this Caladium is easy to grow in outdoor containers, or even inside next to a sunny window. (Caladium)
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  4. Caladium Bulbs Mix, Caladium, Fancy Leaf Caladium

    This Caladium Mix includes 5 different varieties of colorful caladiums that will create a dazzling display in any shady area. Try planting together in a pot, or nestling into a shady...

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    Caladium Mix Fancy Leaf Caladium Mix Caladium Mix
    $23.98 Sale $15.59
    Per Bag of 5
    This Caladium Mix includes 5 different varieties of colorful caladiums that will create a dazzling display in any shady area. Try planting together in a pot, or nestling into a shady garden bed. Right at home in hot, humid areas. (Caladium)
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More About Tropical Bulbs

Because cannascallas, and caladiums are all tropical bulbs, wait until the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed before planting in spring. Find a spot that's protected from cool winds. For canna lilies, full sun is best. Calla lilies can grow in sun or part shade, while caladiums prefer the shade.

Keep the plants well watered and fertilized all summer. In cold climates, cannas and callas may not flower until late summer, but the show is worth the wait. Also, you can enjoy the colorful foliage in spring and summer. In fall, before a frost, dig up and store the bulbs indoors for replanting the following spring.

Happy Gardening

  1. Upright Elephant Ears, Alocasia odora in a raised bed

    The Upright Elephant Ear is pure tropical expression with its enormous, skyward facing- foliage that lends a lush and breezy feel to any outdoor space. The huge, green leaves are the...

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    Upright Elephant Ears Upright Elephant Ear Alocasia odora
    $27.98 Sale $18.19
    Per Bag of 1
    The Upright Elephant Ear is pure tropical expression with its enormous, skyward facing- foliage that lends a lush and breezy feel to any outdoor space. The huge, green leaves are the perfect touch to offset your favorite blooms or to be admired all on their own. This bulb is extremely easy to grow and ideal for containers. (Alocasia odora)
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  2. Hawaiian Punch Elephant Ear, Colocasia esculenta Hawaiian Punch

    ‘Hawaiian Punch’ Elephant Ears is a gorgeous cultivar with deep burgundy stems and veining, with light green, arrow-shaped leaves. If you’re thinking of dabbling in the delight...

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    Hawaiian Punch Elephant Ear Hawaiian Punch Elephant Ear PP#24596 Colocasia esculenta Hawaiian Punch PP#24596
    $34.98 Sale $22.74
    Per Bag of 1
    ‘Hawaiian Punch’ Elephant Ears is a gorgeous cultivar with deep burgundy stems and veining, with light green, arrow-shaped leaves. If you’re thinking of dabbling in the delights of tropical foliage, but want something a relatively compact, ‘Hawaiian Punch’ Elephant Ears is a terrific choice for your containers or garden beds. This deer-resistant plant will give your garden months of foliage color in full sun or part-shade. (Colocasia esculenta)
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  3. Elephant Ear Mojito, Colocasia esculenta, Elephant Ear

    Splashed with chartreuse and rich violet tones, ‘Mojito’ Elephant Ears has large colorful foliage, amazing vigor, and a heat-loving attitude. Stems reveal a beautiful mottling th...

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    Mojito Elephant Ear Mojito Elephant Ear PP#21995 Colocasia esculenta Mojito PP#21995
    $32.98 Sale $21.44
    Per Bag of 1
    Splashed with chartreuse and rich violet tones, ‘Mojito’ Elephant Ears has large colorful foliage, amazing vigor, and a heat-loving attitude. Stems reveal a beautiful mottling that makes this plant a great choice to stand along to to enrich a colorful planting design. Energize your summer garden with deer-resistant arrow-shaped leaves in large containers, garden beds, or nestled against the margins of water features. Bring happy hour to your summer garden, patio or balcony with a few easy-to-grow ‘Mojito!’(Colocasia esculenta)
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  4. Yucatan Princess Elephant Ear, Alocasia sarawakensis Yucatan Princess

    Soaring up to eight feet tall, ‘Yucatan Princess’ Elephant Ears has gigantic deep green leaves fanning over dark stems. Broad, puckered foliage boasts a glossy sheen and...

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    Yucatan Princess Elephant Ear Yucatan Princess Elephant Ear PPAF Alocasia sarawakensis Yucatan Princess PPAF
    $29.98 Sale $19.49
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    Soaring up to eight feet tall, ‘Yucatan Princess’ Elephant Ears has gigantic deep green leaves fanning over dark stems. Broad, puckered foliage boasts a glossy sheen and chocolaty undersides. This tropical plant displays a remarkable depth of color and adds unique structure to the garden, to make a statement alone, or to contrast plants with bright blooms. Plant as a specimen in the garden or containers for lush foliage and dramatic impact the first season. (Alocasia sarawakensis)
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