Lesser Known Tropical Beauty for the Desert Garden

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tropical plants

One of the things that I love about gardening in the desert is how many beautiful plants that can not just survive our arid climate, but thrive in it.  

Besides our native desert plants, many tropical plants also do very well here due to our relatively mild winter in our semi-tropical climate.  Quite a few of these plants are native to Mexico.

So far in our lesser-known plant spotlight, we have highlighted two flowering shrubs that will add interest to your garden…..Valentine and Chaparral Sage.

So now for our next featured plant.  

If you love the shape of water as it cascades from a fountain and the bright colors of coral, then you definitely want to include coral fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) in your garden.

tropical plants

Aren’t the flowers just so beautiful?

Although this beautiful plant is native to Mexico, it does exceptionally well in our arid climate – in fact, the coral fountain in the photos is planted in sandy soil.  The leaves are hard to see and are small and scale-like in appearance.

tropical plants

Here are some reasons that you should definitely try coral fountain out in your garden:

– Striking coral colored flowers continually grace this shrub during the warm months of the year.

– It can reach a mature size of 4 ft. high and 4 – 6 ft. wide.

– Hummingbirds will be in heaven if you plant this pretty flowering shrub.

– Coral fountain is tolerant of a variety of conditions.  Well-drained soils or wet soils, arid climates or tropical climates and handles full sun or filtered shade.

– It grows quickly, so you do not have to wait a long time for its showy display of flowers.

– Because of its tropical origins, it is not cold hardy.  It does suffer frost damage when temperatures dip below 32 degrees F.  You can help to protect coral fountain from frost by covering it when temperatures fall.

Because our soils have so little organic matter, coral fountain does best when given some fertilizer.  I would recommend using a slow-release fertilizer and apply in the spring and fall months.

Try planting it alongside yellow or purple flowering plants for great color contrast.

The cascading form of coral fountain looks beautiful when used next to a water feature or in a container.  You could also use it a raised bed where the flower plumes will gracefully fall over the wall.

Have I tempted you enough to try this plant?

Here is another look…..

tropical plants

I took all of the photos at The Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park in Palm Desert, CA.  I visited there with my sister last March.

Why didn’t I take a picture of my own coral fountain?  Well, I must admit that I do not have one in my garden.

Okay, so you may well be asking why do I not have a plant that I highly recommend in my garden?  Well, that is an excellent question, and I must confess that I do not have a really great answer for you.

I could say that my garden is over 11 years old and already full of plants.

I could then add that if I planted every kind of plant that I loved, that all sense of design in my garden would go out the door because I would have a mish-mash of too many different plants, which is not pleasing to the eye from a design standpoint.

But, those excuses sound kind of pitiful to my own ears.  Every time that I drive to Double S Farms (my mother and sister’s home), I pass by a beautifully designed garden which features a coral fountain shrub on the corner.  I always look for this plant, and I am still admiring it.

And so, I must admit the truth to myself…… I would love to have this plant in my own garden and will be on the lookout for one the next time I visit the nursery. UPDATE: I now have three of the beautiful plants, growing underneath the filtered shade of my palo verde tree.  

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
14 replies
  1. FlowerLady
    FlowerLady says:

    I LOVE this plant. I have it in yellow also. I need to have a pot or two of the coral by my scullery window to hopefully get some pictures of hummingbirds, now that I know they like these blooms.

    Happy Valentine's Day Noelle.


  2. rohrerbot
    rohrerbot says:

    This is a great plant to have in the garden!!! We have one that bushes out. Sadly, after 3 years, it fried to the ground after this last freeze here in Tucson. I am hoping it'll come back. Sometimes during a freeze, the top of the plant will brown up, but in March I trim off the dead stuff and it springs back to life….but after this severe frost, it's too soon to tell if it killed the plant altogether. Great plant and great flowers for our beautiful hummingbirds here!!!

  3. James Missier
    James Missier says:

    I had found this coral plant surviving at the side of a drain, I had trimmed and and planted it in my garden but it took months to for it to show that it had finally give out new shoots.
    Still Im longing for it flowers.
    I wonder what should I do as it receive daily watering, semi shade and receive weekly feeding.

  4. Balisha
    Balisha says:

    What a beautiful plant. I don't think that it would do well here, so I'll have to enjoy your pictures.
    Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours.

  5. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I have a couple of these plants in my garden. They were quite common in gardens when i was a child and I just love them. I love the cream version, too.

  6. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Yes Noelle, i like it too in my garden, but i prefer the Chaparral sage though, that in your older post. haha. The form is so organized, besides my preferences lean on the violets and blue more than the reds and orange.

  7. arizonaplantlady@gmail.com
    arizonaplantlady@gmail.com says:

    Hello and thank you for your comments 🙂

    I think that you may need to back off on the fertilizing and watering a bit. Sometimes too much fertilizer and water can actually decrease flowering. Try to decrease your fertilizer to once a month and see if you see a difference 🙂


  8. Sandy Smith
    Sandy Smith says:

    OK Noelle, you’ve convinced me to to take my Nikon with me up Tatum Canyon (the non-wifi one ;p). We have a neighbor who grows those plants (in CA we call those by a different name, Firecrackers). We also had a neighbor did a complete remodel, including, at least the front landscaping. They enhanced both sides of their entrance driveway as you always suggest. It looks great. (They just finished and I wanted to take a couple pics for you.)
    I might wait until the ‘Golden Hour’ to take the pictures.

  9. Candy
    Candy says:

    I loved this post.I read your blog fairly often and you’re always
    coming out with some great stuff. I shhared this on my Facebook and my followers loved it!

    Keep up the good work!!! 🙂

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