Justicia brandegeeana (shrimp plant)
Justicia brandegeeana is commonly known as shrimp plant because of the colour and shrimp-like appearance of its inflorescence.
About this species
There are around 600 species of Justicia distributed across the tropics and into the warmer parts of North America. Many are grown as ornamentals in tropical and subtropical gardens and as conservatory plants in temperate areas. The genus was named for James Justice (1698-1763), a passionate, though somewhat eccentric, Scottish horticulturist and writer.
Geography & Distribution
Justicia brandegeeana is native to Mexico. It has naturalised in parts of Ecuador and Florida, USA. It is widely cultivated elsewhere.
The shrimp plant is an evergreen shrubby perennial, reaching 1.5 m tall and wide with weak branching stems. The soft green leaves are ovate-elliptic (egg-shaped), usually 5–8 cm long and downy on the underside. Reddish-pink overlapping bracts (modified leaves) enclosing small white flowers are produced throughout the year. The five petals are united into a white two-lipped corolla-tube with mauve markings on the lower lip. The two stamens have dark mauve anthers. Cultivated forms may have bright yellow or lime green bracts.
Pollination is usually by hummingbirds.
Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Illustration of Justicia brandegeeana as Beloperone guttata by Lilian Snelling (1941), taken from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Image: RBG Kew)
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.
Now well over two hundred years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.
Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
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The Huastec people of Mexico used Justicia brandegeeana as a traditional medicine for treating a variety of ailments, including dysentery and other gastrointestinal disorders and treating wounds. Today, J. brandegeeana is widely cultivated as an ornamental throughout the tropics and subtropics and as a greenhouse plant in cooler climates. It has received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Shrimp plants thrive in containers and survive well as houseplants with a long flowering season. They can live for many years but need to be pinched back continually to avoid the plant becoming too tall and leggy. Propagation is by stem cuttings in spring or by division.
This species at Kew
Shrimp plant can be found in the Palm House.
Pressed and dried specimens of Justicia brandegeeana are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world by appointment. The details of some of these can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.
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