Think big for shrimp

Justicia brandegeeana, alias the shrimp plant, which is gaining in popularity as a colourful house plant.
Justicia brandegeeana, alias the shrimp plant, which is gaining in popularity as a colourful house plant.
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It doesn’t grow very big, but Justicia brandegeeana makes a huge impact, particularly in the warmer, tropical parts of the world where it is a magnet for butterflies and humming birds.

It’s better known as the shrimp plant and it’s a lax evergreen shrub, with ovate leaves and these stunning compact arching spikes composed of conspicuous overlapping pink bracts and small tubular white flowers. In the wild, it can bloom for months on end

There are, in fact, summer and winter flowering forms of the plant, and because they can tolerate quite a bit of neglect, they are gaining in popularity as house plants. But unless you can give them an average winter temperature of 64F, don’t try to grow them.

However, should you be fortunate to have a heated conservatory, then the shrimp plant could be made to feel quite at home and, with regular pruning, could easily grow to form a pretty compact shrub up to three feet in height. And that would be a real show-stopper.

It’s not grown for its foliage or flowers but for the vivid orange bracts from which the plant gets its common name. Cultivate it with plenty or care and attention and it should produce them for months on end, although even a specimen given only basic TLC should give plenty of enjoyment.

To stand the best chance of producing a stunning plant, the gardener needs to feed and water regularly during the growing season. Justicia brandegeeana is a greedy beast and demands a hefty liquid feed twice a week when it is in growing mode. A decent, moist but well-drained compost is ideal.

Potting on is also vital – use the best compost you can and give the plant a slightly larger new home every year.

If Justicia brandegeeana decides it likes the good life a little too much, restrain it in spring when new growth starts to appear – simply pinch out the tips to encourage a bushy, compact plant.

It is relatively disease-free, but like many conservatory and greenhouse plants, it is vulnerable to attack from whitefly and, in dryer atmospheres, red spider mite. Regular inspection of the foliage is essential. Otherwise, just enjoy the spectacular show (minus the humming birds, of course).