NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants

Landscaping with Palms and Tropical Plants in New Zealand.

Three elements combine to create a tropical garden; tall stately palms, dramatic large leaves and bright colours. Such a look is perfect for poolside planting, around ponds and city ‘jungles’.

Tropical landscaping in Cairns Botanic Gardens.  You can create the same look in New Zealand.
Palm trees in Cairns Botanic Gardens
Tall stands of Archontophoenix alexandrae make a fine substitute for less hardy tropical palms.
Euterpe edulis are perhaps the most tropical looking palm for landscaping in New Zealand.
The clustering Senegal Date Palm, Phoenix reclinata.  A hardy palm that looks incredibly tropical.
The Giant Fishtail Palm, Caryota gigas.  A great palm for tropical landscaping in northern New Zealand.

Consider also a range of mid-sized cycads perfect for tropical gardens including different species of Cycas as well as the rather large and impressive Lepidozamia peroffskyana.

The massive Lepidozamia peroffskyana cycad is a lush plant perfect for complementing any tropical garden.
Schizolobium parahyba, the Brazilian Fern Tree.

There are a number of attractive tropical trees but perhaps the most exotic looking are the Brazilian Fern Tree, Schizolobium parahyba, and the Forest Fever Tree, Anthocleista grandiflora, with banana-like leaves to one metre.

For their flowers as much as their scent plant a range of different Brugmansia bushes. You may also like to consider Vireya Rhododendrons for their bright, tropical flowers. Hibiscus too should not be overlooked for their bright flowers

Turning to the large leafed subtropical and tropical plants so characteristic of tropical gardens, one should consider ornamental bananas such as Musa or Ensete in a sheltered spot. If kept out of the wind these plants can produce massive, undivided leaves to rival anything else in the garden.

Scented Brugmansias come in a range of colours.

On a smaller scale cannas and gingers will add tropical colour to your garden. Other large-leaved plants include the heart-shaped Colocasias and Alocasias some growing to quite gigantic proportions.


More subtle touches may be added by ferns (the Bird’s Nest fern, Asplenium nidus, is particularly tropical looking), fiery impatiens and colourful bromeliads.

The truly gorgeous Musa 'Ae Ae' banana tree.
The tough Ensete ventricosum banana tree makes a great plant for landscaping tropical garden.
A mature clustering Chamaedorea palm tree.  Chamaedorea palms will impart a tropical feel to any garden.
Gingers and cannas add colour to a tropical garden.
Heart-shaped Colocasias and Alocasias look great in a tropical garden.

© NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants 2019

Beginning your tropical landscape with palm trees we recommend tall, feather-leaved palms to provide the canopy. Suitable species include King Palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae), Kentias (Howea forsteriana), Majesty Palms (Ravenea rivularis), Juçara Palms (Euterpe edulis) and the clustering Senegal Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata).

For a truly tropical looking alternative consider the fast growing Himalayan Fishtail Palm (Caryota maxima) or – if space permits – the Giant Fishtail Palm, Caryota gigas. Note that King Palms, Majesty Palms and Juçara Palms all look great planted in clumps of three or five.

Once the canopy palms are dealt with consider the medium sized palms that will sit at around eye-level. Most desirable is the Sugarcane Palm, Dypsis baronii, a relatively hardy alternative to the more tropical Golden Cane Palm. Visitors to the tropics will wonder at the range of lush, clustering palms. For the New Zealand the Chamaedorea genus is perfect for fulfilling this role. With both solitary and clustering species that tolerate chills no tropical garden is complete without a large number of different Chamaedorea palms. Best amongst these are the clustering Bamboo Palm, Chamaedorea microspadix and the brilliant Cascade Palm, Chamaedorea cataractarum.