How to Grow and Care for Shrimp Plants
Shrimp plant - Beloperone guttata
This plant is one of sixty tropical evergreen shrubs from central America that belong to the family Acanthaceae. The name comes from the Greek belos, an arrow, and perone, a bond, and refers to the arrow shape of the leaves as they emerge from the stems. Only one species, Beloperone guttata, which comes from Mexico and was introduced as recently as 1936, is commonly grown as a house plant. It is popularly known as the shrimp plant because the dull pink bracts that shield the white flowers resemble a shrimp's body. It is a highly ornamental and amenable house plant which likes plenty of light, will tolerate full sun and enjoys the company of other plants. The flowers are produced fairly continuously during the growing season, which lasts for as much as 10 months a year. When not in flower in winter, the shrimp plant will benefit from resting for a few weeks in a cool room.
There is also a rarer variety with yellow bracts, Beloperone guttata 'Yellow Queen'.
Buy plants which have a good rich color to their bracts and are of a compact size and shape. Plants should not have blackened bracts, yellowed and dropping leaves or any trace of mildew in the center. You may sometimes find this plant marketed under the names Drejerella guttata or Justicia brandegeana.
Proper care guide
Atmosphere: Shrimp plants will tolerate most atmospheres, but they enjoy good ventilation.
Cleaning: Unnecessary. Remove dead bracts by pinching off with thumb and forefinger. Do not use leaf shine.
Feeding: Use standard liquid fertilizer once every two weeks from late winter to early autumn only, but then cease feeding so that growth slows down.
Humidity: Shrimp plants enjoy standing on damp pebbles or in a dish full of damp peat. Never spray overhead when in flower, as this will cause the bracts to rot.
How to prune for shape
Light: Plenty of bright light with some direct sunlight is essential for satisfactory production of the colorful bracts. When resting in winter, place the plant away from the window.
Potting and re-potting: Use a soil-based potting mixture with the addition of a one-third portion of peat moss. Adult plants require re-potting every spring, normally to replace the spent soil rather than to enlarge the pot size. However, shrimp plants can be moved into pots one size larger until the maximum convenient size--probably 6 in (15 cm)--has been reached.
Propagation: Tip cuttings 2 - 3 in (5 - 7.5 cm) long will root easily in spring. Place each cutting in a small pot containing a moistened mixture of equal parts of peat moss and coarse sand or perlite, enclose the pot in a plastic bag, and keep it in bright filtered light. Rooting should occur in 6 to 8 weeks. To produce a bushy plant, pot 3 or 4 cuttings together in the potting mixture recommended for mature beloperones; water sparingly, and do not move the pot into direct sunlight for another month or two.
Pruning: Clip back into a neat shape in spring or, of very straggly, cut right down to 1 - 2 in (2.5 - 5 cm) and allow the plant to start again.
Temperature: Normal room temperatures in summer suit this plant, but not above 75° F (24° C), as too much heat makes for soft and spindly growth. They are better kept cooler when resting in winter: 45° F (7° C) is sufficient.
Water: Water sparingly - enough to make the potting mixture barely moist, and allow the top two-thirds of the mixture to dry out between waterings.
What goes wrong
Bracts turn black.
Caused by overhead spraying.
Pick off blackened bracts.
Too much water.
Allow to dry out until recovered. Then water less often.
Too dry or, in winter, too cold.
Test potting mixture and water if dry. If damp, move plant to warmer place.
Needs more light.
Move to lighter place but not into direct sunlight.
Leaves yellowed with webs underneath.
Red spider mite.
Spray with derris, malathion or a systemic insecticide. Improve the humidity.
Leaves distorted and sticky, with green insects.
Spray with pyrethrum or a systemic insecticide.
Move to a cooler place.
As an outdoor plant
Beloperone guttata prefers a rich, well-drained soil and colors best in semi-shade.