Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Justicia betonica, White shrimp plant, Squirrels’ tails

Justicia betonica is a very variable plant in the family Acanthaceae with a large distribution range
which extends from the east coast of South Africa along the coast of tropical east Africa and on through Arabia, India and East Asia. In many areas in particular where it is cultivated as a garden and landscape plant it is known as the white shrimp plant or squirrel's tail.

Justicia betonica in flower

The plants that I have growing are medium sized 1-1.5 m glossy brilliant green plants that
have blooms that are held in slim upright showy, terminal or axillary spikes which are comprised of papery, green bracts enclosing small white flowers. The flowers which are produced in late summer into the early autumn are followed by club-shaped seed capsules which open explosively when ripe to scatter the seeds.

Justicia betonica flower

Justicia betonica needs to be cut back hard in late winter after flowering and tip-pruned as it grows through spring and early summer, to promote a compact tidy shape, otherwise it can become leggy. Justicia betonica grows best in partial shade but will also grow well in full sun. This attractive, fast-growing plant grows best in rich moderately wet areas in the garden and spreads rapidly by seed, forming dense stands.
Although Justicia betonica grows best in shaded wet conditions in loose sandy soil well enriched with organic material I have found it in my own garden to be very drought tolerant growing on dense dry clay soils being one of the very last plants to wilt during times of drought.

If you do not want Justicia betonica to spread throughout the garden it would be advisable to remove the seed heads before they ripen and scatter the seed far and wide.

Black striped hairtail Anthene amarah amarah

Justicia betonica is an asset to any natural indigenous garden because it is always a pleasant refreshing bright shining green colour and it attracts large numbers of insects in particular wasps, solitary bees as well as butterflies in particular species belonging to the family Lycaenidae and a rage of other colourful bugs.

Juvenile Stink Bug Caura rufiventris

Justicia betonica which is not well known here in South Africa is well known and is widely cultivated in most of the warmer regions of the world in particular in the United States of America as a bedding plant in private gardens and public landscapes.

Justicia betonica grows very easily from seed, transplanted seedling or large cuttings that are simply planted in situ and watered until they have rooted.

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