new to my garden; Justicia brandegeana ‘Red’


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.

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5 Responses to new to my garden; Justicia brandegeana ‘Red’

  1. Kris P says:

    I think most of us can use periodic pick-me-ups under the current circumstances and I can’t think of a better source for that than a plant. A week ago, I brought home a large potted sunflower, even though I’d sown sunflower seeds and also had another good-sized specimen grown from a 4-inch pot in my cutting garden. Still, that potted sunflower, transplanted into an even larger pot on my back patio has given me no end of joy. I smile every time I see it from my kitchen window. That’s value for your money! I hope you get the same from your Justicia.

  2. Elainee says:

    I have only seen Justica in conservatories. How cool to be able to grow this outside. Now that the weather has cooled here a bit I am having fun ordering Spring bulbs. Nothing like something new to the garden to perk up your mood.

  3. David Feix says:

    I’ve had better luck with the straight species here in the SF Bay Area, where it is simply excellent for year round showy bloom, but it can get a bit “huge” if not pruned back, like 4 feet tall by across. Growing up, it also did very well as an indoor plant in front of a west facing floor to ceiling window at my parent’s home, also blooming year round.

  4. Denise says:

    @Kris, I’ve paused over that sunflower at nurseries too.
    @Elainee, I ordered lilies in August but no spring bulbs yet — so much fun perusing the bulb lists.
    @David, so good to hear from you. Justicia does have the whiff of Logees and conservatory plants to it, and it is odd to see it under my pergola. But these tropical plants do seem to handle the increasingly hot end of summer here better than most.

  5. hb says:

    The rusty Justicia is a childhood memory from Mom & Dad’s garden. I look at their old house now and again, a few of the shrubs they planted circa 1952 are still there! Not the rusty Justicia, though. Your ‘Red’ has a more appealing color, and does sort of resemble one of those African Salvias.

    My August pick-me-up was Pentas, nothing special, but cheerful, and heat-loving.

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