If you’re establishing a homestead in the tropics, then you may have discovered that some of the most popular greens (like lettuce or spinach) don’t do so well in the heat. 

However, if you take a look around and learn a bit about the traditional greens consumed by societies in Southeast Asia, Brazil, and parts of Africa, you will soon discover that there are a lot of heat-tolerant greens – you just have to learn what they are.

Heat-tolerant greens do well in warm, humid climates and won’t bolt like lettuce does. While some of these greens might grow better in partial shade, all of the greens on this list are easy to grow on any tropical homestead.

A bonus? Most of these greens are easy to plant, low maintenance, and drought-resistant, too!

  1. Laupele Abelmoschus manihot

Laupele has many names throughout the Pacific Islands, but you’ll recognize the leaves when you see them. This sun-loving green is high in iron, fiber, zinc and other important vitamins. 

Even better (I think) is that it tastes delicious steamed and prepared with coconut milk.  Cook it any other way and you may find that it’s a bit slimy.

Other names:

Island cabbage, Tonga Spinach, Hibiscus Maniot, or Samoan Spinach

How to Grow:

The fastest method to grow laupele is by cuttings, although you can successfully grow from seed, as well, although I have never seen a seed.

Plant in soil that drains well, but is quite moist (consider adding a layer of mulch to create the ideal growing conditions).

If you plant in a pot, the smaller space will limit the growth of the plant, making the leaves easy to harvest. However, if you plant in your garden, be prepared that it can grow up to 5 feet high.

  1. Katuk Sauropus androgynus

Katuk is a shrub with sweet, edible leaves that grows very well in hot climates, even in full-sun. It’s a very common vegetable eaten in Indonesia and Malaysia, mixed into stir-fry meals.

Other names:

Sweet leaf or Star Goosberry

How to Grow:

It is best to grow Katuk from cuttings, but I have seen it volunteer from seed.

While the plant grows best in a humid, shaded rainforest, it does tolerate full-sun, too, but it’s important to keep the soil damp. Therefore, lay a thick layer of mulch to help hold in the moisture.

Left alone katuk can grow very tall, and even lean over because the base of the plant isn’t sturdy enough. For this reason, it’s a good idea to regularly prune your katuk plant. The good news about this maintenance, though, is that you get to eat the trimmings!

  1. Malabar spinach Basella alba

Malabar spinach is native to tropical regions of Asia, such as Cambodia and Sri Lanka, so you know that it will do great in a garden, even in the heat.

Like several other greens mentioned on this list, if the spinach sprouts flowers the leaves are still edible but have a bitter taste.

Other names

Vine spinach, climbing spinach or Indian spinach

How to Grow

Grow Malabar spinach from cuttings or vine tips.

Make sure to give your Malabar spinach full sun, and a trellis or other structure to climb on, it is a vine after all.

  1. New Zealand Spinach Tetragonia tetragonoides

New Zealand Spinach is a great addition to any summertime or tropical garden because it thrives even in full-sun and dry conditions. It’s a very healthy green, high in vitamins, but it’s advised that you blanch the fresh leaves for a few minutes before eating, or adding to dishes. 

Other names:

Cook’s cabbage, sea spinach, and tetragon.

How to Grow:

Plant New Zealand Spinach by seeds, but allow for approximately one meter between each plant, as it spreads very wide, making a mat of leaves.

While this type of spinach does not require lots of moisture to thrive and grow large, edible leaves – having sufficient water will noticeably improve the flavor of your New Zealand Spinach.

  1. Sissoo Spinach  Alternanthera Sissoo

Sissoo spinach makes for great ground cover – that you can eat! If you need a plant that can do well in the shade, then sissoo spinach is the plant for you. It spreads quickly, and the leaves can be enjoyed raw or cooked.

Other names:

Poor Man’s Spinach, Brazilian spinach or Samba Lettuce 

How to Grow:

Sissoo cuttings need a lot of moisture to get established at first, so make sure your soil is moist, well-draining and that you water regularly. After the plants are growing and spreading healthily, you can scale back on watering.

Sissoo Spinach can tolerate sun and full shade, but if grown in the sun, it will need to be watered often.

  1. Sweet potato  Ipomoea Batatas

Sweet potatoes are a win-win for any tropical homesteader, because not only are the root vegetables delicious (and easy to store) but the sweet potato greens are edible, too.

And, of course, this plant loves the sun if you want to get tubers, but the greens will do well growing in the shade.  While it is drought tolerant, for the best-tasting sweet potato greens, give your plant sufficient water.

Other names:

Kamote tops

How to Grow:

It’s easy to plant sweet potato greens – simply grow sweet potatoes. Start from slips and plant in moist soil with some fertilizer.

Don’t harvest all the greens when you want to eat them (the potato needs them to conduct photosynthesis and to grow healthy), make sure to leave plenty of leaves on each plant – select a few greens from across all potato plants, instead of depleting only one. 

  1. Chaya  Cnidoscolus chayamansa

Chaya is native to Central America and gives a powerful punch of nutrients, especially calcium, potassium and iron (it’s higher in iron than regular spinach, even). 

Chop up the green leaves and add to soups or casseroles – but boil them for a few minutes first. The leaves have a low level of toxicity which is eliminated during the boiling process.  They are also somewhat tough, so the boiling makes them more tender.

Other names:

Tree spinach, kikilchay or chaykeken

How to grow:

Chaya plants are propagated from cuttings, not seeds. Don’t directly plant a fresh cutting – allowing the cut area of the woody stalk to dry a little is beneficial to prevent rotting as it tries to establish roots.

Chaya is drought tolerant and thrives in even dry, sandy soil. Once it is well-established, you likely won’t need to water your chaya plant at all.

You may need to regularly prune it, though, as it can grow as tall as some trees, and soon those greens will be out of reach.

  1. Amaranth

While Amaranth might be known as mostly an ornamental garden plant, it is edible and is a staple green served throughout hot, humid areas of Africa. 

To cook, remove the leaves and prepare as sauteed greens, mixed with onions and perhaps a few shredded carrots.

Scientific names:

Amaranthus tricolor (red-leaf amaranth)

Aramanthus hypochondriacus (purple or burgundy leaves)

Aramanthus cruentus (an heirloom variety that is very high in protein).

Other names:

African spinach, love-lies-bleeding plant or bush greens

How to grow:

Amaranth is easy to grow from seeds. The seeds are very small, so prepare a row of soil mixed with compost and simply sprinkle the seeds around, then cover with a light layer of soil, not need to plant individually.

You can eat the greens even after the flowers (full of tiny seeds) have sprouted, but try to keep the seeds to plant your next batch of heat-tolerant greens.

It’s a good idea to plant your amaranth rows weeks apart so that you don’t get overloaded with more healthy greens than you can eat.

There you have it: some of the easiest-to-grow, heat-tolerant greens. Which will you start in your tropical garden today?