Shrimp plants are becoming very popular in South Florida gardens. I don’t know if it is because of their colorful bracts with tubular white flowers that seem to explode out of the top and sides, or if it’s that the flowers look like the pink crustaceans so many of us Floridians consume by the pound every year. Whatever the fascination, they are great plants, unique and wildlife friendly.
For those gardeners who are not familiar with these little beauties, let me tell you they are drought tolerant and can take the summer heat and humidity. Still not convinced? How about that most of them bloom year round. Shrimp plants are also butterfly and hummingbird magnets. When planted in mass, like everything else, they definitely make a statement.
There are two different plants that are called by the common name shrimp plant. I was surprised they did not have the same genus. The yellow shrimp (Pachystachys lutea) is probably the best known and can be found at most nurseries. The yellow shrimp can grow four to five feet tall here in Florida, but has a tendency to get leggy, which can be remedied by cutting it way back once a year. It will flush back out quickly. You can also plant new young plants in the front of the older, leggy ones. The latter makes a huge statement in the garden, but severely cutting it back usually produces more blooms and stronger stock. This is one of my favorites.
The other one is the red or pink shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana). It will grow into a nice, full shrub but does not get four to five feet tall, like its cousin the yellow shrimp. There is also a white shrimp (Justicia fulvicoma). The blooms have white very erect bracts with small purple flowers popping out along the sides of the flower stem.
Then there is my new favorite, orange shrimp plant (justicia spicagera) or commonly called orange plume. It will grow into a five to six feet tall shrub. The blooms are BRIGHT orange and explode away from the plants like the fourth of July fireworks display. Fruit cocktail (Justicia brandegeana) is another shrimp plant that has appeared in nurseries in the last few years. The bracts are a yellow-green with red to pink flowers popping out of the sides of the bracts. I’ve had mine for a couple of years and it has only grown about three feet high.
Still another is King’s Crown (Justicia carnea). This plant is another shrimp that is smaller size and works well as a border plant. It really stands out because of its upright, full, pink clusters of flowers which bloom on and off several times a year.
All shrimp plants will do well as container plants as well as in the garden and they like to be fertilized a few a times a year. I have read that they prefer sunny locations but I personally have had better luck placing them in a lower light, not shade (as if you could find shade in Florida).They also perform well in our sandy soil. KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!!
Plant category: Perennials, shrubs
Pests: Shrimp plants have a few insect problems, some scale but not enough of a problem to deter one from planting these beauties.
USES: Shrimp plants make great cut flowers, garden borders, hedges, container plants and, in masses, a big statement in the garden.
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991, moving from the New York, New Jersey area. At that time he started a landscaping and lawn service business and after almost forty years totally in that line of work, he decided to sell his business and concentrate on his passion: “bringing butterflies back to Naples.” He has since written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted, designed and maintained numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many Collier County schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress National Preserve and is a familiar face at the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings and on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic. Mike also does butterfly art and has a website, naplesbutterfly.com