Justicia Brandegeana: the shrimp plant

The species Justicia Brandegeana takes its name from the American Townshend Stith Brandegee, a botanist who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century. As the original name, the term should therefore be correctly written with two “and”, but in the Italian version now accepted loses the second, as not proper to our language, and can therefore be found written Justicia Brandegeana.
Appearing to the family of the Acanthaceae, in the group of Angiosperms, or flowering plants, the genus Justicia comes to comprise approximately six hundred species.


The plant is native to Mexico and in Italian it is known only by its specific name. The vulgar common name in English is instead “shrimp plant” The name of this plant derives obviously from the particular shape of the arrangement of the bracts that support the flowers. Besides the shape, it is also the color that reminds the indigenous populations of the typical shrimp’s armor.
The plant can grow up to 1 m in height (in some rare cases it can overcome it) with branches so thin that if left to grow for a long time, they will no longer be able to self-sustain and end up bending towards the ground. Its leaves are oval, light green in color and between 3 and 7.5 cm in length. White in color, the flowers extend from the red shrimp-shaped bracts: these are the elements that give the common name to the shrub.
There are several cultivars, which have colors of bracts including yellow, pink and orange-red. Once started, the flowering can continue for months, observe a short period of rest … before starting again.


The plants of this species are mainly widespread in the tropical areas of America, yet there is an extremely resistant variety that has found an ideal environment in which to thrive in the not far California. The variety in this case is called Justicia Californica. Furthermore, the plant is naturalized in Florida. In our homeland, it is in the mild Riviera of the extreme west of Liguria that Justicia finds an environment favorable to its growth.

As we have just seen, this bizarre shrimp-like plant can thrive in the shade in tropical areas or in conditions that replicate its characteristics. The ideal soil is clayey or sandy and well drained. The plants of this species can not withstand temperatures below 7 ° C: in colder areas they must be grown under glass or as potted houseplants.
Thanks to its ability to live in conditions of low light and withstand drought, it is a plant that requires little maintenance and tolerates being neglected sometimes.
In order to avoid turning into a disordered looking shrub, the plant requires pruning to be done annually, or whenever it needs to maintain a pleasant shape and an optimal size. Cultivated in the correct environment, this shrub could accompany those who will take care of it for a period between 10 and 20 years.


The plants of the species may be afflicted by fungus or rust spots. Moreover, one of the pathologies that could catch this plant is the rotation of the roots, that is a type of fungal disease that would result in caries and root rot resulting in the premature death of Justicia Brandegeana. Even mites and white flies can be a problem for plants of this species.

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