Shrimp Plant

close up of a red flower with green leaves

Many plants gain popularity because of their brightly colored flowers. This week’s plant, Justicia brandegeana, is well liked because of its vibrantly colored bracts. Justicia brandegeana originates from Mexico. The genus which has over 400 different species is named after James Justice, a Scots gardener and also the author of a 1754 book, British Gardener’s Directory. The species is named for a famous American botanical explorer, Townsend S. Brandegee. He introduced many plants from Mexico to California which were known for being drought tolerant.

Justicia brandegeana is commonly called shrimp plant because each spike somewhat resembles a large shrimp.The spike is made up of red to yellow bracts. The plant is covered with this feature for most of the year. The flowers are white and very thin. They can be seen sticking out from between the bracts and usually have a short life span. The leaves are light green and slightly pubescent. Most range from about 2-3 inches in length.
In the south, it is known as a broad-leaf evergreen and is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11. It may die back in a hard frost, but usually grows back in the spring. In Iowa, it is used primarily as a house plant. As the plant ages, it tends to get leggy and in some cases needs to be staked. It is important to prune it back to keep it from starting such habits. It produces its brightly colored bracts best when it receives plenty of light. The shrimp plant prefers to be watered when the top three inches of soil are dry. Leaves tend to drop off if the plant is too wet or dry.
The shrimp plant can be seen at Reiman Gardens as part of our Lady Bug Breakfast display in the Conservatory Complex which can be seen through November 2011. It can also be seen the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing throughout the year.