Yellow Shrimp Plant

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Yellow Shrimp Plant, Pachystachys lutea

Family:  Acanthaceae

Also known as: Golden Shrimp Plant, Lollipop Plant, Golden Candle or Yellow Candles

This perky evergreen perennial sports bright, unique flora comprised of yellow bracts and protruding tubular white flowers that bloom year around.  Described in botanical writings as “a tropical upright shrub and common bedding plant,” I would hasten to add that it is thoroughly uncommon in appearance and downright delightful!

Most professionals assert that this fast growing native is from Peru.  (Though one source I generally always trust says that it ranges from Costa Rico to Venezuela as well.)  It is related to the bigger leafed Justicia brandegeana, but is not as drought tolerant.  Hence, water them regularly (not overly so though) and plant in rich, organic (those familiar with me well know my mantra by now . . . so need I say it) “well-draining” soil. 

Its – up to – six inch (15.24 cm) flower spike is four-sided as a result of the large yellow ovate bracts with tubular, two-lipped flowers protruding from the center. They are described as zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetrical).   (Keep in mind that – like Poinsettia, Crown of Thorns and Bougainvillea – the yellow portion are actually bracts).  One source described these flowers as “spires of yellow rocket-shaped lollipops!”

Here, in Mexico, it prefers light shade – no more than four to six hours of direct summer sun, please – and can grow upwards to between 36 and 49 inches (91.44 – 124.46 cm) in height.  Excessive exposure to Ol’ Sol can cause leaves to wilt and become yellow-green.  But in cooler zones, it thrives in direct sunlight.

They prefer high humidity, so you may want to mist its dark green, somewhat lance-shaped, shiny, smooth textured but heavily-veined leaves regularly in the non-rainy season.  These leaves, by the way, grow in pairs opposed to each other.  In that they have low tolerance for salt, it is not a good beachside plant.

Yellow Shrimp Plants root easily from cuttings.  If you are so propagating, I encourage use of a rooting hormone which will enhance your chances of success.  During its most aggressive growing season, one can fertilize these plants bi-weekly to monthly with liquid or granular all-purpose, high potassium, fertilizers.  Sometimes I use the good old tried and true Miracle Grow.

With age, they tend to get leggy.  If kept as a potted plant, refresh the potting soil annually.   To encourage optimal blooming and new growth, cut off the dead bracts and, every so often, trim the plant whole – as much as one-third of its branches.

The Yellow Shrimp Plant broadens its home turf by sending out new underground runners.  So, even if you start with only a limited number of plants, in a few years your Golden Shrimp Plants will have spread amply.

Usually insects are not a problem for them.  But, every so often they may be bothered by spider mites or scale.  The damage caused by both of these pests comes when they puncture the leaves to suck out the plant juices.  Spider mites are so blasted small that – for my aging eyes anyway – they’re extremely difficult to see.  But one is acutely aware of their presence by a yellow or reddish stippling and the silky webbing on the leaves.

Scale, on the other hand (or would that be leaf) is comprised of tiny insects covered by a waxy, shell-like covering.  Signs of these being “aboard” are that leaves turn brown and curl eventually, often dropping away.  A strong stream of water will remove light infestations of spider mites and scale. For heavier infestations, treat by spraying the plant with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap, if possible.  Such as these are not only safer than toxic pesticides,but they also don’t present as much danger to beneficial insects like bees and Lady Bugs.

Folklore would have us to understand that in the Caribbean, one species of Pachystachys is used as a hallucinogenic beverage with more pedestrian usages as treatment for fever, coughs, colds, and hair loss. . . . I encourage that we stick to them as simple garden plants!

In the right location, these are nice indoor plants.  Outside, perhaps use as a low hedge, border plants or in a mass planting – where they’re particularly spectacular.  Another plus is the fact that they also attract hummingbirds. 

On the lower reaches of Ola Brisa Gardens, our Yellow Shrimp Plant happily complement – growing beneath them – their larger kin, some Red Shrimp Plants.  (But we’ll discuss these beauties elsewhere!) 

1 Yellow Shrimp IMG_1333

It is wise to mist these lance shaped, shiny, smooth textured but heavily veined leaves during the non-rainy season.

2 Yellow Shrimp IMG_1135

The Shrimp Plant Plant’s unique flora is comprised of yellow bracts and flat sided, tubular white flowers that bloom year around.

3 YELLOW SHRIMP 377P0027s

Interesting little characters, aren’t they?