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Pachystachys lutea Nees 1847
pronounced: pack-ee-STACK-iss loo-TEE-uh
(Acanthaceae – the Black-eyed Susan family)
common names: Golden Shrimp Plant, Lollipop Plant, Golden Candle
Pachystachys is derived from the Greek παχυς (pachys), thick, and σταχυς (stachys), an ear of corn, referring to the flowerheads; lutea is Latin, from luteus, yellow.
This native of the lowland areas of Central and South America from El Salvador to Peru is a tropical and subtropical soft-stemmed perennial evergreen shrub or subshrub that grows from about 60 – 180 cm tall in its native habitat, and usually to about 1 m in the garden. It is very similar in appearance to Justicia.
The true white flowers are narrow, two-lipped, and tubular in shape. Each flower is partly covered by showy overlapping yellow bracts, and together they make up the quadrangular inflorescence, which is 8 – 12 cm long. The bracts resemble the overlapping scales on a shrimp: hence the common name. Each raceme has numerous flowers that open sequentially up the spike.
In the tropics, small capsules containing numerous seeds follow the flowers.
In the garden, the plant prefers full sun, and a moist, organically rich, well-drained soil, slightly acidic. It will tolerate partial shade. If grown as a houseplant, it will do best in a warm, humid sunny location. Plants in containers can be moved outside during the warm months and returned indoors to overwinter in a greenhouse or bright window. In cooler climates the plants need to be indoors if nighttime temperatures fall below 5ºC. Air temperatures below 15ºC will usually cause leaf drop. In-ground plants may survive a slight frost, but will be leafless, and take a long time to recover.
Plants can be heavily pruned to maintain a reasonable size and to shape the plant. Left to itself, the plant will get leggy and top-heavy. Pinching the growing tips will encourage branching for a fuller plant.
It is easily propagated from softwood and semi-ripened stem cuttings taken in early summer.
The plant is popular with hummingbirds.
Photographed in Arcadia, 2018
Page last updated 16th April 2018