Golden shrimp plants are popular landscape items in tropical areas. The “shrimp” is grown primarily for its flower heads. The easy-to-grow plants produce a year-round profusion of overlapping masses of gold bracts flecked with small white flowers tipped with purple spots, each having two slender petals and long yellow stamens, amid bright green leaves. The flowers last only a few days, but the flower heads last for a long period of time.
For some reason, they never caught on to the same degree as houseplants. There's really no reason for this. Given the right warmth and light, and a little snipping here and there, they can be wonderful and exotic additions to your collection. Be aware that the true golden shrimp plant is the Pachystachys lutea. It's closely related to the Justicia brandegeana (syn. Beloperone guttata), but not as cold-hardy or drought-tolerant.
Here are some tips on growing golden shrimp plants:
- Light: Bright shade or morning sun. Avoid mid-day sun.
- Water: Keep soil continuously moist throughout the year, but reduce watering in winter. High humidity is preferred, so mist leaves regularly.
- Temperature: Above 60 F is preferred in the summer. In winter, above 55 F is best. Avoid drafts and air-conditioning vents.
- Fertilizer: Feed in spring with slow-release pellets or weekly during growing season with liquid fertilizer.
Golden shrimp plants root easily from cuttings. Use a rooting hormone to increase the odds of success.
A full-size golden shrimp plant is about 2.5 to 3 feet tall, although they tend toward legginess as they age. Repot younger plants every spring, going up one pot size. If they're kept as perennials, refresh older pots with fresh potting soil every spring, but don't increase pot size.
The P. lutea is the only suitable Pachystachys for indoor cultivation. There is another species, the P. coccinea, but it's a much larger plant that's really only suited for use as a medium shrub. The closely related Justicia genus, however, has several plants that are similar to the golden shrimp plant, especially the J. brandegeana, which is typically sold as a "shrimp plant." All feature colorful, scaled bracts and smaller flowers.
Golden shrimp plants bloom best in the spring and summer, but a well-cared-for plant will bloom all year. To encourage bushiness and blooms, snip off dead bracts and occasionally trim the plant, cutting one-third of the branches back to the stem to encourage new growth. Untrimmed, these plants will become leggy and top heavy and unattractive. The most common problem with golden shrimp plants is lack of water and warmth.
In summer your “shrimp” can enjoy a vacation in the garden and continue to bloom. You may sink it, pot and all to the rim, in a sunny location. Rotate the pot so roots do not go through the drainage hole and become embedded in the soil. Because of the restricted root system, the plant will need more frequent watering than plants growing in the ground.
In the fall, take up the pot, cut the plant back and repot it. Or perhaps you will have a supply of new plants and will not care to over-winter the old one. It will, however, continue to bloom for several years.