Justicia flava is known as impela in Zulu
Justicia flava is an erect or trailing, usually perennial herb growing up to 120cm tall which belongs to the family, Acanthaceae. The stem often becomes woody at the base
Justicia flava is a common species found in a number of different habitats especially in disturbed habitats, growing on a wide range of soil types, in full sun or semi-shady areas at elevations from sea-level to 2,300 metres, some forms of the plant can tolerate moderate frost. It has a widespread distribution from West Africa through Central extending into Southern Africa, also occurs on the Arabian Peninsula. Justicia flava is extremely drought resistant, in very dry regions the plant can grow as an annual with smaller flowers.
Justicia flava is pollinated by insects in particular honey bees it also attracts various species of butterflies in particular small blues of the family Lycaenidae.
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and medicine. In some areas Justicia flava is not removed when found growing as a weed in cultivated fields, but is allowed to grow on in order to harvest its leaves for use as a vegetable which is cooked as a spinach of used in soups and stews. In some regions the leaves are burnt to ash to produce a vegetable salt. Although it is reported that Justicia flava makes good forage for domestic animals I have observed that it is not eaten by my sheep and goats.
Justicia is used traditionally to treat coughs in South Africa. The roots are traditionally rolled into beads which remain fragrant for years.
Growing Justicia flava
Justicia flava is best grown from seed although it grows easily from cuttings
The seed capsules of Justicia flava burst open when ripe, to prevent the seeds from being lost, they must be collected as soon as the seed capsules turn brown. The seeds can be planted into trays or pots but by far the easiest is to plant the seed which germinates readily directly in situ.
Justicia flava grows best in a sunny position, but also tolerates partial shade.
Environmental value and use in the garden
|Bees visiting Justicia flava|
Justicia flava makes a wonderful ornamental groundcover for use in sunny spots where it can be used as a ground cover to protect and bind the soil for instance in coastal dunes and sandy river banks. It is a very valuable source of both nectar and pollen for honey bees in particular because it flowers year round under favourable conditions. In my own garden Justicia flava attracts very large numbers of insects year round at times of the year being the main source of food for them.
Justicia flava reproduces readily from seed which is most useful if it is being used for the stabilization of sandy soil but it can become a “weed” in the more formal garden. In my own garden I periodically remove the old plants to keep them under control.
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist
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