The Allure of Shrimp Plants

Justicia brandegeana, also known as the shrimp plant, may not actually bear any resemblance to its namesake, but its shrimp-esque bracts are undeniably eye-catching. With its lush evergreen leaves and delightful form, this shrub is a smorgasbord of ornamental beauty, whether grown in the ground or in a container. Similar to grilling shrimp on the barbie, cultivating J. brandegeana is a worthwhile endeavor. In this article, we will explore what shrimp plants are, their cultivation and propagation, and how to grow and care for them.

What Are Shrimp Plants?

Belonging to the Acanthus family, J. brandegeana is a stunning evergreen shrub that originates from the tropical regions of Mexico. With its sprawling habit, ovate leaves, and bright green hue, this plant is a sight to behold. At the tip of its stems, you’ll find the shrimp-like bracts that give the plant its name. Starting off as a dark red color, these bracts gradually transition to bronze and then green.

The shrimp plant produces skinny, fragrance-free flowers with white petals, a maroon throat, and purple anthers. These flowers bloom throughout the majority of the year in tropical conditions, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. After pollination, the flowers give way to brown fruit capsules containing tiny seeds.

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Cultivation and History

While the shrimp plant may not have the same impact as bamboo or indigo plants, it has made its mark in the ornamental landscape and houseplant scene. In fact, J. brandegeana received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society in 1913.

The genus and species names of J. brandegeana have fascinating backstories. Justicia was named after James Justice, a Scottish gardener and horticulturist known for his writings on northern climate gardening. The specific epithet brandegeana honors Townsend S. Brandegee, a botanist and plant collector specializing in the flora of Mexico’s Baja region.

Shrimp Plant Propagation

To acquire shrimp plants, you have several options for propagation. Stem cuttings, division, and transplanting are the most common methods.

From Stem Cuttings

Take stem cuttings and keep them in containers with indirect light near a sunny window. Ensure the growing medium remains moist as the cuttings establish roots. After rooting, repot the cuttings as needed and gradually acclimate them to outdoor conditions.

Via Division

Dividing shrimp plants is an excellent way to propagate them. Lift the plant from the ground or container, and cut the crown into two or more sections with roots and aboveground growth attached. Untangle the roots and shoots of each division before transplanting them.

Via Transplanting

Prepare well-draining, fertile soil for transplanting shrimp plants in your garden. Space the planting sites one to five feet apart and provide full sun to partial shade. For container-grown plants, choose a pot that is slightly larger than the transplant’s root system.

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How to Grow Shrimp Plants

Now that you have shrimp plants in the ground or in containers, let’s discuss how to ensure their happiness and health.

Climate and Exposure Needs

Shrimp plants thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11. Partial shade with protection from afternoon sun is ideal for optimal bract color. Indoors, provide bright indirect light.

Soil Needs

Shrimp plants prefer well-draining, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Add organic matter each year in the spring to maintain fertility.

Irrigation and Fertilization Needs

Shrimp plants prefer evenly moist soil but can tolerate some dryness. Water whenever the soil surface feels dry. Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half-strength every two weeks during the growing season.

Growing Tips

Here are some tips for successful growth:

  • Partial shade exposure is best for blooming, but full sun works too.
  • Ensure the soil or growing media is well-draining.
  • Water when the surface feels dry to the touch.

Pruning and Maintenance

Prune any damaged or diseased tissues whenever necessary. Shape the plant as desired before the growing season begins. Pinching back growth tips encourages a more compact habit. Remove spent flowers to promote reblooming. Mulch the root zone for moisture retention and weed suppression. Protect container plants from freezing temperatures, and repot them as needed.

Where to Buy Shrimp Plants

Shrimp plants may not be readily available in all regions. Look for local plant nurseries or reputable online vendors in warm regions. Ensure safe shipping during appropriate weather conditions. Consider exchanging cuttings or divisions with fellow gardeners or attending plant swaps and horticultural shows.

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Managing Pests and Disease

While shrimp plants are generally healthy, they are not immune to certain pests and diseases. Here are a couple of potential threats:

Pests

Insects can spread diseases while feeding, so controlling bugs can help prevent disease spread. Spider mites and whiteflies, for example, can be managed with yellow sticky traps or beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings.

Disease

Maintaining sterility is crucial to prevent disease. Use sterilized tools and disease-free stock. Adequate spacing, airflow, and avoidance of overhead irrigation can also help prevent leaf spot diseases. When root rot is detected, reduce irrigation and improve drainage.

Best Uses for Shrimp Plants

Shrimp plants make stunning landscape specimens and can be showcased in borders or containers. They also thrive indoors as houseplants. Pair them with tropical foliage plants like Chinese evergreens, elephant ears, or snake plants for a vibrant display.

Shrimp plants may not resemble actual shrimp, but their unique beauty is captivating. Whether you choose to grow them in your garden or as houseplants, their ornamental appeal and easy care make them a delightful addition. Enjoy the wonders of the shrimp plant and create a stunning display of color and foliage in your own space!

Shrimp Plant Image

Watch this video to learn more about cultivating shrimp plants:

Shrimp Plant Video

To purchase shrimp plants and explore more gardening options, visit the Ames Farm Center.