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What grows best in your garden?

Some helpful hints on the best native trees and plants to get your garden flourishing

The pristine natural beauty of the Virgin Islands is fantastically unique and provides a stunning backdrop to island living. The Caribbean’s native plants and flowers add colour, provide shade, and enhance an island home with organic charm.

One of the best parts about living on an island is the unbelievable vista, and any landscaping should add to the scene without obstructing water views or creating visual distractions.

Ms. Natasha Harrigan of the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens in Road Town, Tortola offered invaluable information on the best plants native to the Virgin Islands to grow indoors and out. With the fluid nature of indoor-outdoor living, these native plants offer local flavour to complement the island’s natural surroundings.


Landscaping is the ‘welcome mat’ of a home. It is the first thing people see as they arrive and the last thing they see as they leave. These outdoor plants thrive in the tropical climate and add shade, colour, and beauty to an outdoor space.


Palm trees are recognised the world over as a symbol of the tropics, and the many varieties each offer their unique shape and shade capabilities. Some plants native to the BVI that provide excellent shade include the Jacquinia, the Orange Manjack tree, Wild Mauby, and the Mahogany tree. These trees tolerate the Caribbean sun well and provide a variety of contrasting shapes.

If you’re looking to add some colour to your landscaping, ornamental trees provide a stunning array of hues in addition to offering desirable shade. The flowering yellow poui, black pearl, ylang ylang, and vivid flamboyant tree each offer a colourful canopy. The beautiful Frangipani are also known to be particularly tolerant to pests and wild animals.

Ground Plants

Traditional yard grasses don’t grow particularly well in the islands, so other ground plants can provide coverage and diversity to a landscape. Many cacti are native to the BVI and require little water to thrive. Aloe vera and bromeliads provide beautiful and low-maintenance ground coverage. Crotons, red and green dracaena, schefflera, and bougainvillea plants are very tolerant of the sun, can withstand a longer period without watering, and have fewer nutrient needs, making them ideal for outdoor landscapes.

“If your property comes into contact with much seablast, stay away from the softer and more delicate plants like annuals, perennials and some variegated species of plants as they may not be able to tolerate the high salt content,” said Harrigan.


Tropical fruit trees and vines offer a different way to landscape a yard. Not all these plants are native to the BVI, but they all thrive in the climate and not only provide contrast to a landscaped property but give a bonus: delicious fruit! Papaya, banana, guava, mango, sugar apple, breadfruit, guinep, golden apple, carambola (star fruit), or passion fruit plants add edible variety to a landscape.


Flowering plants are eye-catching and often the showpieces of a home’s landscaping plan. Bougainvillea and blooming agave require less water, but provide fantastic flowers. Morning glory and hibiscus also offer beautiful flowers to welcome anyone into a home.

Heliconias, ginger lilies, numerous ferns, and the beautiful bird of paradise plants don’t require many nutrients, but need lots of shade and water. Once planted in the right spot, these beautiful plants thrive and produce stunning flowers.


Plants provide an organic element indoors, as well as helping keep the air clean and providing a relaxed sense of calm inside a home or office. Potted plants like anthuriums and coleus offer beautiful texture to a room, while the flowering prunella and the ever-popular orchid radiate stunning colour into the home. The unique shape of sansevieria and lucky bamboo add diversity to your indoor landscape while requiring less maintenance.

Things to Consider

  • Caribbean living has its own unique challenges that go along with creating a beautiful space. Consider how day to day life with these plants will affect your choices.
  • If your property has a pool, remember when placing plants around it what kind of leaves you will have to scoop out of the water. Any pets will also potentially be interacting with the landscaping around your home, so make sure any poisonous or hazardous plants aren’t anywhere the pets could be harmed.
  • In addition to domestic pets, wild animals and pests are also a part of island living. “Most plants are pruned to pests, especially non-native plants that are more at risk. Some pests are even known to only affect certain families of plants. The truth is, once your plant is stressed—lacking water or nutrients—they will be more prone to pests,” said Harrigan.
  • Take into account the placement of your plants based on the orientation of your home. The Caribbean sun can be rather harsh, so make sure the plants you choose can withstand the amount of sun or shade they receive based on their placement in your landscaping plan. In addition to the sun, making sure your plants receive adequate water will help you determine their placement. Even though the tropics get a lot of rain, there is always the potential for dry spells. You don’t want to deal with plants that require lots of precious cistern water.

Special thanks to Natasha Harrigan and the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens, located in Road Town, Tortola, are open to the public and provide a delightful afternoon outing to visitors and residents alike. The nursery sells plants mainly native to the BVI and gives away free trees to the public on Arbour Day (November 27).

Sara Sherman
Sara Sherman is a former St. Thomas resident and the editor of Virgin Islands Property & Yacht.
Sara Sherman

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