Brazilian plume Flower (Justicia carnea— picture here) is a tropical/tender perennial shrub with unusual pods holding many tubular flared flowers that bloom throughout the summer in colors ranging from pinks to purples and oranges. Growing just three- to four-feet wide and a bit taller, the shiny bronze-green foliage of this plant creates a beautiful foil to the pod-like flower hips. The large, coarse oblong leaves are prominently veined, pointed on their ends, and can reach 8" in length. Justicia branches are as delicate as the plant's other features and will not withstand traffic or wind; coupled with its preference for partial or light shade, the plume flower should ideally reside in a sheltered corner of the garden. As with so many other shade plants, about half a day of sun will produce the best display of blooms.
The genus Justicia, named after an 18th century Scottish gardener James Justice, consists of about 300 species of herbs, shrubs and tender perennials native to the tropics and subtropics of Brazil and South America. Some common names for Justicia carnea include flamingo flower, Jacobinia, pine-bur begonia, pink jacobinia, pink tongues, paradise plant, king's crown and cardinal's guard. The Brazilian Plume Flower is a member of the Acanthus family, relating it to other unique tropical plants like shrimp plants.
Supposedly easy to grow and propagate, plume flowers are an ideal plant for brightening shady garden spaces if you can create the right microclimate and do exceptionally well in containers here, as they require excellent drainage. Deadhead old flower spikes immediately when the blooms decline, and the plant will start sending out new leaves followed by more blooms. Justicia prefers mildly acidic to neutral soil and should be watered regularly but not overwatered; fertilize three times a year in spring, summer and early fall, and cut back lanky stems after blooming to maintain the plant's shape. To encourage vigorous blooming, fertilize container plants biweekly and landscape plants monthly with timed release granules. The plant may appear leggy by late winter, but cutting back severely in late winter or early spring should encourage a dense, compact shape. Although subtropical, plants have resprouted after temperatures even in the low 20's without protection.
To propagate Justicia, make stem cuttings about 8"-12" long in spring and remove all but the top few leaves. Dust the root end of the stem with rooting hormone powder, ensuring that at least two leaf junctions are covered. Push the stem 1"-2" into potting soil and keep moist until new leaves appear.