Originally from Mexico, Justicia brandegeana, better known as the shrimp plant, is a subtropical plant that is commonly grown in gardens and as a container plant in the southern portions of the United States. The flowers are curious looking and give the impression of the segmented body of an actual crustacean shrimp, hence the name.
The leaves of shrimp plants are arrow-shaped and range from 1 to 3 inches in length and 1/2 to 2 inches in width. They are bright green, glossy, deeply veined, and alternate along the stems of the plant. The undersides of the leaves are soft and fuzzy. The thin, green stems form clumps that grow upward from the base of the plant and can be from 3 to 5 feet tall. The flowers are the most interesting part of the plant and come in a variety of colors, from yellow to bright green to rust-colored red. The flowers have layered bracts; specialized colored leaves that surround the actual flower of the plant, giving it a shrimp-like appearance.
Shrimp plants grow well in hardiness zones 8 through 11. The plant grows quickly and spreads easily. Left uncontrolled, the plant may be somewhat invasive and weedy. In warmer areas, the shrimp plants may remain evergreen through all seasons. In cooler areas, they will die back to the ground to regrow in the spring. The plant tends to flower continuously throughout the growing season.
For the most part, shrimp plants require little care and are an excellent choice for the beginning gardener. The plant appreciates full sun or partial shade. They prefer fertile soil, rich in organic material, that is well draining. The plants may require regular watering during warm, dry weather to keep the plants fresh. The soil should be kept moist but not wet. The tips of the shrimp plant should be trimmed back occasionally to promote the bushier appearance. Flowers that have finished blooming should be removed to encourage new blooms.
Propagate the plant by digging up mature clumps of plants, dividing them carefully and replanting them as individuals. The plant is also very easy to root. Cuttings may also be taken and rooted to produce new plants.
The shrimp plant can be planted as a perennial in raised beds and flower borders. They add color, curiosity and variety to the garden. In cooler areas, the plan can be easily grown in containers and brought indoors when the weather changes. The flowers of the shrimp plant also produce nectar for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.