Exotic Plants That Thrive in North Carolina

Exotic Plants That Thrive in North Carolina

A few of the rare and exotic plants we have trialed at Plant Delights Nursery

By Published July 11, 2016 Updated July 31, 2023

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The following article is part of a series geared toward entry-level gardeners. For deep dives into a variety of perennials that we have sold over the decades, visit our archive of in-depth perennial articles written by Tony Avent, Dr. Patrick McMillan, and other Plant Delights and JLBG experts. We also have transcripts of our Gardening Unplugged videos, recorded during our Open Nursery and Garden Days, that have great information for gardeners of all experience levels.

At Plant Delights Nursery, we take immense pride in our commitment to cultivating a spectacular collection of rare and exotic plants that thrive in North Carolina and specifically USDA Zone 7b plants. Through years of dedication, we've carefully bred and trialed an array of botanical wonders, each specially adapted to flourish in the unique climate of our region. Let us take you on a journey to explore some of the stars of our captivating collection.

  1. Monarda luteola 'Coconut Lime': This North American native bee balm hails from a small region called the Weches Geologic Formation on the Texas/Arkansas border and was only identified as a new species in 2011. The plant forms a 30" tall clump of mildew-resistant, lemon-scented foliage that spreads to create a 5' wide patch in a single season. The blush yellow flowers of Monarda luteola 'Coconut Lime' begin blooming in mid-May, attracting bumblebees as their delightful visitors.
    Though not overly aggressive, this plant is best suited for larger gardens rather than smaller, intricate spaces.
    Image of Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Gold Crest' PP 32,310
    Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Gold Crest' PP 32,310
  2. Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Gold Crest' Caryopteris 'Gold Crest' is an impressive deciduous shrub that reaches a mature size of 3' tall x 5' wide, displaying a lovely rounded shape and vigorous growth. The bright yellow foliage emits a strong menthol scent, adding to its charm. From August to September, the plant becomes adorned with abundant cymes of blue flowers, attracting a fascinating array of pollinator insects.
    This hybrid sets a new standard for gold leaf Caryopteris x clandonensis varieties.
    Image of Lilium x sulphurgale 'Vico Gold'
    Lilium x sulphurgale 'Vico Gold'
  3. Lilium x sulphurgale 'Vico Gold' The extraordinary Lilium 'Vico Gold' traces its origins to the garden of the late Sir Peter Smithers, a former British spy associated with Ian Fleming. In this remarkable breeding effort, he crossed the wild Burmese Lilium sulphureum with the robust Chinese Lilium regale. The result is a breathtaking lily that boasts towering 7' tall stalks, adorned with clusters of horizontally pendant, enormous gold yellow trumpets.
    The fragrance of these blooms is nothing short of sensational, captivating all who encounter them.
    Image of Arisaema sikokianum
    Arisaema sikokianum
  4. Arisaema sikokianum Arisaema sikokianum, a member of the aroid family, stands out as the most exquisitely beautiful specimen in both the genus Arisaema and the entire plant kingdom. Emerging from an underground tuber in early spring (around early April in NC), it showcases a dark pitcher and two five-lobed leaves on a fleshy 1' tall petiole (stalk). As the pitcher unfurls, a striking sight awaits - a swollen, pure white, protruding sex organ (spadix) that forms a stunning contrast against the pitcher's purple hue (spathe).
    Even after flowering, the foliage remains appealing until it eventually goes dormant in late summer. To thrive, Arisaema sikokianum prefers a well-drained dry site in the woodland garden, showcasing its remarkable beauty in the most captivating setting.
    Image of Agave x nickelima 'Great White Shark' PP 32,484
    Agave x nickelima 'Great White Shark' PP 32,484
  5. Agave x nickelima 'Great White Shark': Introducing Agave 'Great White Shark,' a magnificent creation born right here at Plant Delights Nursery in collaboration with JLBG in 2023. This dazzling variety originated as a striking mutation on a single leaf of Agave x nikelima 'Sharkskin Shoes,' which we diligently isolated and developed into a wide-edge spectacle. Fully matured, these slowly-offsetting plants grow to be 18" tall and 30" wide, boasting an exquisite elegance that is sure to captivate all who behold it.
    Whether your climate permits it to thrive outdoors or you prefer to keep it in a container, Agave 'Great White Shark' promises to dazzle with its sheer beauty and grace. Embrace this botanical wonder and indulge in the allure of this stunning creation!
    Image of Canna x generalis 'Rose Tiger'
    Canna x generalis 'Rose Tiger'
  6. Canna x generalis 'Rose Tiger': Prepare to be amazed by this remarkable Canna. 'Rose Tiger' is a highly vigorous and exciting addition from the renowned "tiger" series of striped-leaf canna lilies created in Thailand. Proudly displaying its dense patch of foliage, this stunning beauty soars to an impressive height of 7'. The stalks are adorned with yellow-veined foliage, creating a captivating display that serves as the perfect backdrop for the rosy pink flowers blooming all through the summer months.
    Embrace the vibrant charm of Canna 'Rose Tiger' as it enchants your garden with its natural splendor throughout the entire season.
    Image of Colocasia esculenta 'Waikiki' PPAF
    Colocasia esculenta 'Waikiki' PP 34,615
  7. Colocasia esculenta 'Waikiki': Experience the botanical marvel of Colocasia 'Waikiki,' a remarkable 2022 Plant Delights/JLBG introduction and a captivating creation by John Cho. This elephant ear hybrid stands as one of the most unique and dazzling specimens we've ever nurtured. Maturing at 3.5' tall and 5' wide, its corrugated green leaves emerge with a dark back. Witness the enchanting transformation as the back changes from purple to green, while the leaf front reveals a wide central white pattern with a purple dot.
    As the season progresses, the purple overlay expands over the white, gracefully flowing into the veins. By the time the leaf matures, the central pattern and veins are entirely adorned in striking purple hues. The full splendor of Colocasia 'Waikiki' takes two seasons to emerge, but it's undoubtedly worth the wait. This exquisite specimen is a sight to behold and must be grown to be truly appreciated.
    To witness its grandeur in full, provide Colocasia 'Waikiki' with bright sun and moist soil, particularly in humid climates. Embrace the magic of this extraordinary plant and allow it to become the crown jewel of your botanical collection.
    Image of Gloxinia nematanthodes 'Evita'
    Gloxinia nematanthodes 'Evita'
  8. Gloxinia nematanthodes 'Evita': Also known as Seemannia nematanthodes 'Evita,' this astounding introduction from Argentina's 4,000' elevation has been an outstanding addition to our collection of winter-hardy gesneriads since its debut in 2004. Meet the remarkable Gloxinia nematanthodes 'Evita,' which makes a fashionably late appearance, typically emerging in June here in North Carolina.
    Once it graces us with its presence, this plant forms a compact, 1' tall and 4' wide mass of short stems, adorned with soft green foliage. But the true spectacle begins in August when it unfurls 1" long bells of the most striking orange-red hue we have ever seen, rivaling the brilliance of a custom Ferrari. From the moment it blooms until the frost arrives, hummingbirds flock to its flowers, creating a delightful show of nature's beauty.
    And that's not all; Gloxinia nematanthodes boasts a delightful habit of spreading through above-ground stolons, quickly transforming into a marvelous groundcover. If you're a fan of brilliant colors that pop, don't forget to grab your camera and sunglasses to capture the splendor of Gloxinia 'Evita' in all its glory. This dazzling beauty is bound to leave you utterly mesmerized.
    Image of Hippeastrelia 'Volcano'
    Hippeastrelia 'Volcano'
  9. Hippeastrelia 'Volcano': xHippeastrelia 'Volcano,' a magnificent 2021 Plant Delights/JLBG introduction that stems from a 2005 seedling meticulously selected from the esteemed xHippeastrelia 'Durga Pradhan' Indian clone. This outstanding re-flowering bi-generic hybrid, born from the union of Hippeastrum and Sprekelia, begins its stunning display in mid-May and continues sporadically throughout the summer.
    Prepare to be enchanted by the sight of 2-3 reddish-pink flowers gracing each 11" stalk, beautifully streaked with pristine white. Remarkably, xHippeastrelia 'Volcano' is the most compact and prolific flowering hippeastrelia we have ever cultivated. However, we must share the bittersweet news that our stock block for this extraordinary introduction has been depleted, meaning you may not have another opportunity to acquire it for many years to come.
    Experience the magic of xHippeastrelia 'Volcano,' a true horticultural gem that will leave a lasting impression on any garden it graces. Act swiftly to secure this rare beauty and cherish its captivating blooms for a lifetime.
    Image of Musa sikkimensis
    Musa sikkimensis
  10. Musa sikkimensis We are thrilled to once again offer the enchanting and lesser-known hardy banana, Musa sikkimensis, sourced from the high montane forests of the northeast Himalayas. These bananas have been known to reach towering heights, with trunks reaching up to 14' in height and an impressive diameter of 18". However, in our garden, we've observed them grow to around 9' tall.
    One of the most captivating features of Musa sikkimensis is the dazzling cinnamon-red hue of the leaf backs as they emerge. While some may wonder about their edibility, comparing it to the aroma of Himalayan bathrooms being comfortable is quite accurate – both have an aroma, but not much more. These bananas are primarily prized for their ornamental value and unique foliage rather than their taste.
    Experience the wonder of Musa sikkimensis in your own garden, as it adds a touch of exotic beauty and serves as a fascinating conversation piece. Appreciate the allure of this hardy ornamental banana, cherished for its ability to thrive in various landscapes and its distinctive visual appeal.

Through our dedication to discovering and cultivating rare and exotic plants, we've created a showcase of botanical splendor that thrives in the magical landscapes of Zone 7b. Gardeners and plant enthusiasts can explore a treasure trove of beauty, each plant carefully chosen to thrive in this special climate. As Plant Delights Nursery continues to be a beacon of inspiration, we invite everyone to join us in celebrating the extraordinary world of flora and the wonders they bring to our gardens and lives.

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