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Tropical Rainbow House Plants

By: Jessie Keith

Why wait for flowering house plants to bloom for indoor color when you can have plants that always look vivid and dramatic? Some have foliage that’s so colorful their leaves look like a Mardi Gras parade. Just a few pots will bring dazzling delight to any room with good light.

These rainbow house plants come from tropical or subtropical regions and grow best in rooms with good humidity and warmth. Plant them in premium potting soil that holds water well. Then water and feed them, keep their leaves clean and sparkling, and they’ll paint living spaces with spirit-lifting color. The hottest of the rainbow hotties include the following bold house plants.

Rainbow House Plants

Jacob’s Coat

Jacob’s coat ‘Mosaica’ is a riot of color and grows well as a house plant or seasonal ornamental.

A native of the Pacific Islands, Jacob’s Coat (Acalypha wilkesiana) is a tropical shrub that makes a wonderful potted house specimen. It has standout multicolored evergreen foliage that typically comes in shades of white, green, pink, and red. Choice selections include the pink-, peach-, green-, and purple-leaved ‘Mosaica’ and peach- and orange-hued ‘Tiki Peach Whirl’. The plants can grow quite large and should be pruned to size as needed.

Chinese Evergreen

‘Two-Tone Moonstone’ is one of many wildly colorful Chinese evergreens.

The brilliant leaves of Chinese evergreen (Agleonema spp.) are boldly colorful. These low, lush plants originate from the humid tropics and subtropics of Asia where they survive in the forest understory. Two of our favorites for color include ‘Two Tone Moonstone’, with its pink and white leaves speckled with green, and the poinsettia-like ‘Red Zircon’, which has crimson-red leaves edged in green.

Begonias

Begonia T REX™ ‘St. Nick is one of thousands of different begonias with cheerful leaves. (Image thanks to Terra Nova Nursery)

The variety of colors that can appear in a single begonia leaf are truly impressive. Species extend from subtropical to tropical regions across the Americas, Africa, and Asia where they exist in moist, forested habitats. They have been intensively bred, resulting in thousands of impressive cultivars, such Begonia ‘Martha Stewart’ with its gold-, chartreuse- and russet-leaves, and Terra Nova’s T REX™ ‘St. Nick, with a purple- and red-centered leaves decorated with green and silvery white spotting. Another good pick from Terra Nova is Begonia SHADE ANGEL™ ‘Aurora’ with its lustrous leaves that have hints of silvery blue, lavender, raspberry pink, and ivory.

Croton

Croton ‘Mammy’ has the bonus of curly extravagant leaves.

The leaves of croton (Codiaeum variegatum) are arguably the most colorful and visually diverse of all the plants in this list. Natural populations exist in the South Pacific and Australia where they grow in open forests and shrublands.  The lush, glossy-leaved plants can take a little less water and have brilliantly patterned leaves that may have mixed shades of yellow, red, purple, white, and green. Some are broad-leaved and others elongated. We like ‘Mrs. Iceton’, with leaves of deep purple, rose, green, and yellow, ‘Lauren’s Rainbow’, with elongated leaves of purple, orange, green, and yellow, and the compact ‘Mammy’ with its curly multi-colored leaves.

Rose-Painted Calathea

Rose-painted calathea ‘Princess Jessie’ loves shade and always looks lovely.

Native to the forests of Brazil, rose-painted calathea (Calathea roseopicta) has broad, striped leaves of green, ivory, and rose. The compact plants always look and grow well in low-light areas of the home. Try the dark green, rose, and ivory ‘Princess Jessie’ (a name I like very much).

Ti Tree

Few house plants are as electric as ti tree!

The upright, lance-shaped leaves of ti tree (Cordyline fruticosa) come in lots of brilliant tropical shades. Like croton, it comes from the South Pacific and adjacent Australia where it survives in drier tropical forests. Specimens develop woody, trunk-like bases over time. Give them bright light and large pots that will allow their roots to grow freely. For color, we like the purple and magenta ‘Ruby’, and the green-, yellow- and pink-leaved ‘Morning Sunshine’.

Tricolor Prayer Plant

As the name suggests, the low-growing tricolor prayer plant (Stromanthe ‘Triostar’) has three-colored, lance-shaped leaves with bold markings of cream, rosy purple, and green. It originates from Brazilian rain forests and requires sufficient moisture and humidity for good growth.

Caring for Tropical House Plants

Aside from bright filtered sunlight, warmth, and humidity, these tropicals need plenty of rich, moisture-holding soil to dig their roots into. At planting time, provide them with containers that are several inches larger than their root balls. Make sure the pots have drainage holes at the bottom and deep saucers to catch excess water. Two of the best Black Gold mixes for substantial water-holding ability are Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix, which is OMRI Listed and contains coconut coir, and Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix, which is our #1 best seller for house plants of all kinds. Keep the potting mix evenly moist, never wet, and fertilize regularly with an all-purpose fertilizer. Slow-release fertilizers are easier to apply and time-saving.

A collection of these rainbow house plants will bring spectacular looks to any indoor space. Forget about flowers! Planting with indoor foliage is the best way for busy  gardeners to achieve neverending color.

About Jessie Keith


Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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