What is Pachystachys?

Angie Bates

Pachystachys is a genus of flowering plants that includes 12 species. These plants are generally native to the tropical regions of Central and South America. Evergreen shrubs, they have perennial flowers that bloom in late spring through the fall. They can be placed in gardens or kept as houseplants.

The pachystachys plants are native to the tropical regions of Central and South America.
The pachystachys plants are native to the tropical regions of Central and South America.

In the wild, species of pachystachys can grow from 2–6 feet (0.6–1.8 m) tall. In gardens or as houseplants, however, these plants usually only grow 1 or 2 feet (0.3–0.6 m). They cannot tolerate temperatures less than 55&degF; (12.7&degC;), so if planted in gardens, winters must be mild or plants must be moved inside and kept through the winter when temperatures start to drop.

Plants should be placed in moist soil, watered relatively frequently during the growing season, and only moderately in winter. They grow best in partial shade, but do need sun — though large amounts of direct sunlight should be avoided. These plants should also be misted regularly.

Commonly called a golden shrimp plant, golden candle, or lollipop plant, Pachystachys lutea is one of the most popular species in this genus. Native to Peru, this species is also found wild in Hawaii. It grows approximately 1–1.5 feet (0.3–0.45 m) in height. The elliptical, broad leaves are low to the ground, and the flowers consist of a few small, white tubular petals surrounded by bright yellow-gold bracts — overlapping leaves similar in shape to scales — which resemble the scales on a shrimp. The bracts form a large cone-like shape. The overall appearance superficially resembles a yellow candle with a white flame.

Another popular species is Pachystachys coccinea, or Cardinal's guard. Growing to 4–6.5 feet (1.2–2 m), this species has numerous tube-like scarlet flowers surrounded by dark green bracts that are slightly spiked. Flowers and bracts together make a cone-like shape. Unlike the golden shrimp plant whose bracts provide most of its floral color, the Cardinal's guard's brilliant red appearance and is due entirely to its flowers. This species also attracts hummingbirds and monarch and swallowtail butterflies, and as with other species, its elliptical leaves are low to the ground.

These plants do not have any chronic health problems. It is important warm temperatures are maintained, however. If temperatures drop below 60&degF; (15.5&degC;) then leaves have a tendency to droop. Whiteflies and spider mites are also pests prone to infest pachystachys. Owners should watch for signs of either of these infestations, particularly in those plants that are kept inside the house.

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