Leaves That Stand Out: Growing Plants With Beautiful Foliage

Pink Foliage Plants
interesting leaves
(Image credit: Gardening Know How, via Nikki Tilley)

Plants with beautiful foliage can be just as eye-catching and elegant as those with flowers. While foliage usually provides the backdrop of a garden, plants with cool-looking leaves can get a starring role if the leaves are big in size or bold in color variegation. If you want to liven up a shady area or add a unique spectacle to your garden, you can do it with stunning plant foliage. Read on for ideas.

Plants with Beautiful Foliage

Every leaf has its own beauty, but some are more exceptional. They may ‘wow’ us by their size, shape, or color. Some of these plants also grow flowers, but the leaves are the primary ornamental attraction.

You’ll find stunning plant foliage on more than a few perennials. One to look for is canna (or canna lily). This plant is actually not a true lily. It has huge, banana-shaped leaves that can be green, red, or even striped. Flowers come in shades of red, yellow, and orange. Even without the flowers, most gardeners agree that these plants stand out.

Another plant with interesting foliage is the coleus. Coleus plants have large, oval-shaped leaves that are often edged in new green with brilliant scarlet interiors.

Plants with Interesting Leaves

If you want plants with leaves that make the neighbors stare, start with the agave family. Agaves are succulents so their leaves are thick to begin with, but the fascinating variations are exceptional.

  • Monterrey Frost (Agave bracteosa) has ribbon-like, arching, succulent leaves radiating out from the center.
  • New Mexico agave (Agave neomexicana ‘Sunspot’) has a rosette of dark turquoise leaves with creamy yellow margins that leave a stunning color contrast. 
  • Artemisia offers leaves that stand out in a crowd. The texture is airy like a fern but silver-gray colored and soft as butter. You could try any of the popular Artemisias like wormwood, mugwort, or tarragon.

Leaves that Stand Out Above Others

The list of gorgeous foliage plants goes on and on. Many rank hostas as the top foliage perennial, as there is no doubt that these leaves stand out. They may be green, blue, gold, or multicolored. Hosta varieties come in small to giant, but all have stunning plant foliage.

Another plant whose leaves stand out is the Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus). The leaves are almost iridescent. They are oval in shape and a shocking, violet color with green ribs and undersides.

More plants with cool looking leaves include:

  • Lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina), which are fuzzy and gray (about the size of a lamb’s ear) and very, very soft.
  • Edible amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor ‘Perfecta’) may make you think of a tropical parrot, as it has impressive plant foliage that is canary yellow splotched with scarlet in the center and bright green at the tips.
  • Elephant ears (Colocasia spp.) and similar plant types, like caladiums, all have large, arrow-shaped leaves (resembling an elephant’s ear). Varieties can have green, velvety leaves shaped like elongated hearts. Foliage may be dark purple to black with leaves bearing interesting color patterns such as the red, white, and green.
Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.