The shrimp plant an evergreen shrub with a unique look and a variety of uses. This plant does great, indoors or out, and flowers almost all year long. Read on to learn more about how to grow and care for the shrimp plant.
What Is A Shrimp Plant?
The shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) is also known as the Mexican shrimp plant or false hop. These plants are also often sold as Justicia brandegeana or Beloperone guttata.
This plant is a small broadleaf evergreen shrub with a naturally thin and sagging growth form, but it can be pruned to be a neat, upright, and sturdy-looking ornamental shrub.
These plants reach about 5 ft (1.5m) tall in favorable conditions but usually, you can expect your shrimp bush to grow up to about 3ft (0.9m) tall and 2-3ft (0.6-0.9m) across.
This species is native to Mexico but has naturalized in Florida due to its favorable climate. In nature, this plant grows in shady, tropical areas.
The 1-3 inch (2.5-7.5cm) long leaves of this plant are oval-shaped and green although they may take on a somewhat variegated look. How boldly variegated the leaves will be is mostly dependent on how much sun exposure the plants get.
The leaves and stems of this plant are covered in fine hairs.
Shrimp Plant Flowers
Shrimp plant flowers occur in bold, drooping and arching spikes up to 6 inches (15 cm) or more in length. This inflorescence produces white flowers with maroon speckles, which are covered by pink to bronze bracts.
Although it doesn’t sound like it from that description, these blooms do look a little like shrimps and this is where the plant gets its unusual name.
This plant will flower almost throughout the year and is only without flowers for about 2 months in winter.
There are a few cultivars of the shrimp plant available. These include:
‘Yellow queen’ is a cultivar that is known for bright yellow (rather than pinkish) bracts and ‘Jambalaya’, which is a dwarf cultivar.
How To Grow A Shrimp Plant
Shrimp plants can be grown from seed or from soft or semi-hardwood cuttings of 2-3 inches (5-7.5cm) long planted in spring. These plants should be grown in moist soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter.
Water this plant regularly in the summer months, say 2 or 3 times a week, depending on how hot and dry the weather is. Don’t water too heavily because these plants don’t like having ‘wet feet’.
These plants are pretty forgiving but it is important to get the balance right as leaf drop may occur if the plant is over, or under-watered. Very little water is required in the winter months when the plant’s growth rate slows.
The shrimp shrub should be grown in full sun or partial shade. Plants grown in all-day sun may suffer from some bleaching, however, so your best option is a sunny spot with some afternoon shade.
Zones 9 -11 are the most suitable for growing shrimp plants as this species does not enjoy temperatures below about 45°F (7°C). These plants have been grown in zone 8 but there’s a good chance the plant will behave like a perennial, dying right back to ground level in winter before resprouting in spring.
If you live in a cooler area, you can still grow this plant, provided you grow it as a house plant, or in a container that can be brought inside in the cold season.
Care and Maintenance
The shrimp plant is a low maintenance species but will benefit from some pruning if you prefer a more upright, dense growth form. Prune your plants in spring, before they begin to flower.
These plants are generally quite pest resistant but look out for whiteflies, spider mites, and fungal leaf spots.
Whiteflies may be common on house plants. These tiny pests will feed on the sap of your plants in both their adult (flying) and larval (crawling) life stages. Infested plants may suffer from yellowing and dying leaves.
Unfortunately, these pests are difficult to control once established but you do have a couple of options. Remove dead and dying leaves and wash infested but healthy leaves off with water and a cloth. Neem oil is a helpful but not completely effective organic control option. (1)
Spider mites are another common pest that causes leaf damage. These tiny arachnids can be controlled by forceful watering of your plant’s foliage, or with the use of neem oil.
Always inspect your plants for pests and disease before purchasing if possible as this could save you the hassle of trying to manage infected plants.
The red shrimp plant is brilliant for containers and is popular as a house plant for sunny areas. These plants are also great for a nature garden where the flowers will be visited by pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies.
The shrimp plant is a very attractive and interesting plant for warm to tropical gardens. This plant’s habit of flowering almost all year long will certainly bring cheer to your yard or a sunny windowsill in the home. Its small size and ease of care make this a great beginner’s plant that can be grown indoors, or outside.
- Flint, M. L. Pest notes: Whiteflies. University of California Statewide IPM Program.
- Singhurst, J. R. & Holmes, W. C. Justicia brandegeeana (Acanthaceae): New To The Texas Flora