Contrary to what you might expect, a shrimp plant does not actually produce shrimp, but it does put out profuse blooms which superficially resemble shrimp, especially if one squints from a distance. This evergreen perennial is native to Mexico, and it is a popular ornamental among people who live in the tropical to subtropical climates of USDA zones eight through 11. Assuming that winters do not get too severe, the shrimp plant will bloom almost year-round, a trait which many gardeners appreciate.
Allowed to grow unchecked, the shrimp plant will grow into a bush around three feet (one meter) tall, with fragile stems. Many gardeners prune their shrimp plants back regularly to encourage a more bushy growth habit, as the plants can get a little leggy if they are not shaped. The leaves of the shrimp plant vary from deep green to purple, depending on cultivar, and the distinctive flowers are dark red to brown in the wild, but they can also be white, yellow, pink, green, and cream, with many cultivars coming in contrasting colors.
Shrimp plants are ideal for big beds and borders, because they grow reasonably quickly and they can make a dense cluster of cover. This plant prefers full to partial sun, and well-drained soil. In dry climates, shrimp plants will require regular watering to stay healthy, and they have a tendency to get a little droopy in extremely hot, dry weather. As a result, many people use drip irrigation to ensure that their plants get enough water.
If a winter gets cold or frosty, a shrimp plant will die back, but if left alone, it will return in the spring with new growth. In the event that a shrimp plant does die back, the dead foliage should be trimmed away and removed to clear the ground for the spring. Shrimp plants can be propagated through cuttings, or from their seeds; simply wait for the seed heads to dry out fully and then clip them and store them in a cool dry place, or scatter the seeds as desired.
Many garden supply stores carry shrimp plants, often in an array of cultivars to choose from. It is also possible to purchase seeds, and if you know someone who raises these colorful tropical plants, you can always ask politely for some seeds to grow in your own garden. Be aware that since these plants do reseed, they can spread rapidly.