What is that?
I was stretching my legs at a local nursery last week, not looking for anything in particular, just keeping track of what plants are up for sale in late August. Cosmos, zinnias, and dahlias have all showed up this week. Are they always this late? Attempting to grow some cosmos and zinnias myself this year has got me heavily invested in issues of timing for sowing and growing these summer annuals in zone 10. Among the salvias for sale there were a couple plants covered in incredibly fat brushes of dusky red bracts. These were no salvias!
Even before checking the tag, I knew it was a so-called shrimp plant, but I’d never seen one in these colors before. The tag simply noted Justicia brandegeana ‘Red.’ A tropical from Mexico and Guatemala, I’ve never really wanted to grow the more familiar species with rust-colored bracts. But seeing it obviously enjoying a very hot August, with sensational bracts surpassing those of Salvia involucrata, which is always miserable in my garden, a three-gallon needed to come home with me for closer study. Those tough, corrugated leaves and prolific show of flowers had “easy” written all over them. We’ll see. I tipped it out of the pot that was only half filled with soil and added about a third more soil, then slipped it back into its nursery pot.
Justicias are apparently hugely popular in Florida where they’ve naturalized. I see them very occasionally locally here in Southern California. To avoid the blare of mid-day sun, I placed mine at the west end under the pergola, but I can move it again if it sulks. The colors seem to have intensified since I brought it home.
This might be just a summer fling with the red justicia. I can’t think of a place in the garden for it, not just for lack of space (to 6′) but because it strikes me as slightly out of character with the rest of my garden. It seems designed as a pick-me-up for late summer. It reminds me slightly of another Acanthaceae family member, Brillantaisia, the Giant Sage from Africa. Hummingbirds and butterflies adore it, and I’ve always been a sucker for anything with showy bracts. It’s reputed to have a very long season of bloom. I wonder how I’ll feel about it in December! Stems can be brittle and benefit from pinching and constant trimming. For now, injecting something happy and flourishing into the garden is the perfect antidote to a very hot, steamy August.