Sunday, January 13, 2013

Whether a prawn or a shrimp, this kind isn't edible

Species name: Justicia brandegeeana

Common name: shrimp plant

Location: UWO Greenhouse

The shrimp plant, a pretty fitting name if you have bad eyesight and a good imagination (don't look much like a shrimp otherwise...), is native to Mexico and was introduced to Florida where it has become naturalized. The pinkish "petals" around the bottom of the flowers start off white, turning pink as they mature. The darker, more intense the colour the more light they were exposed to during maturation. These bracts continue to grow along the top of the inflorescence stalk until they become too much weight for the plant to bear and they break off. The more mature the plant, the longer the bracts can be; in some fully-mature plants they can be up to a foot long! Thats a big shrimp. The leaves also change colour in response to light; the chlorophyll is easily bleached out in high light levels. As the leaves are exposed to more and more direct sunlight, white spots start to appear on the leaves. To get rid of the spots, shade the plant. If you like the spots (it doesn't seem to hurt the plant much, although there will be an upper limit for the plant's tolerance), make sure it gets lots of sun during the day!

The shrimp plant is incredibly sensitive for frost; it would do very poorly in temperate climates if left outdoors during the winter (anything below 7 degrees Celsius and the plant will die) but they do perfectly well indoors. Outdoors during the summer they will attract butterflies and hummingbirds due to the long, trumpet-like shape of the flowers and the abundance of nectar that they produce. They will also attract a lot of ants and bees, so probably best to make sure it's not planted right beside the doorway to the house. You might regret your decision...

Another common name of the plant is the "false hop" plant, named after the bracts in some cultivars that are yellow or yellow-green. They mimic the bracts of the hops plant which are used to give the characteristic flavour to beer, but just to warn the home-brewers amongst you: the shrimp plant won't make your home-brew taste like beer, or even like shrimp. There aren't any reports of the plant being poisonous, but it's certainly not edible, either.

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