Golden shrimp plant


Cheating shrimp: The golden shrimp plant’s flowers are actually brightly-colored bracts of leaves, hiding small, white, shrimp-like flowers in the center.

One farang, well done

The British aren’t very good at much any more. I’ll admit that we do occasionally stumble through the odd sporting victory every now and then, but generally we’re a bit on the “could do better” side. There is just one skill at which we excel: that of taking the mickey, also known by the abbreviated form of the Cockney rhyming slang “take the mickey bliss”.

The Brits are at this form of verbal jousting all the time. We can have conversations with each other that unknowing observers would consider highly offensive; an outsider would think that the two were adversarial combatants who hated each others’ guts. Quite the contrary – Brits can go on for hours slagging each other off without breaking into a smile, all the while buying drinks for each other in the pub. This has Americans, for example, completely flummoxed.

I have to make a confession at this stage – I have been guilty of this myself on the odd occasion. I remember visiting Hadrian’s Wall many years ago; a wall which was the historical divide between ancient England and Scotland. For those not familiar with the geography, it’s several hundred miles from the south coast of England, and the English Channel separating England from France.

I met an American while I was there – a lovely lady she was.

“We’re a long way up, aren’t we,” she commented, as we walked along the windswept wall.

“Yes, we are,” I said, doing my best to sound wise. “You can see for miles from here.”

“How far can you see?” she asks. At this stage I see one of those big steel communication towers way off in the distance, and decide it’s time to pounce.

“Most people don’t realize this, but you can actually see France from here.”

“Really?” she responds, highly excited at the thought of “doing” France during her trip.

“Yes, really. Look over there.” I pointed at the distant communications tower. “See that? That’s the Eiffel Tower.”

“Oh, my gawd!” she shrieked, and proceeded to take dozens of photographs of this national icon.

I suppose on reflection, I should feel immensely guilty at the thought of poor old Eliza-Jane joyfully returning to her family in Pennsyltucky, brandishing pictures of the Eiffel Tower taken from Hadrian’s Wall. Bless her.

I would go so far as to say that before I arrived in this country, I would have naively suggested that we were world leaders in taking the mickey. How wrong I was – the Thai people are brilliant at it.

How many times have you asked a Thai person for a bit of advice, and they’ve playfully demanded 5 baht in return? As with the Brits, they like the sport. But they’re better at it. Restaurant and bar owners often have a hard time keeping track of whose bill is whose – I discovered recently I’m known as Mr Shout. They rarely bring me the wrong bill.

The Thai version of taking the mickey also extends to tourists. Thais are far too sensible to go out into the sun during the day, and they would certainly never consider stripping down to the bare essentials and lying in the sun all day, slowly baking. They even have a term for this – they refer to the rows of pink farangs on the beach as “barbecued shrimp”. Merciless, and painfully accurate.

There had to be a most tenuous link to gardening somewhere, and the subject of shrimp brings us neatly on to the golden shrimp plant. Otherwise known as the “golden candle plant”, “lollipop plant”, by the Latin name Pachystachys lutea or lueang khiribun in Thai, it adds a spectacular splash of bright yellow wherever it happens to sit in your garden.

Originally from Peru, it’s one of those plants that almost looks too good to be true. Instead of the more traditional green leaves with the odd flower dotted around here and there, the golden shrimp plant takes the idea of color one step further. It cheats.

It does have the traditional leaf setup that it shares with many members of the plant kingdom; large, deep green oval leaves with prominent veins, but they’re not all green. Some of them modify themselves to form bright yellow bracts (like the red leaves of the poinsettia, or the colored parts of a bougainvillea) that mimic the appearance of flowers.

These bracts look like three to four inch bright yellow candly things from a distance. They almost hide the true flowers, which contain all the mechanisms for fertilization of the plant.

The actual flowers look like tiny white prawns, or junior shrimp. The flowers only last a few days, but the yellow bracts can stay there for several weeks, resulting in a continuous display of these impressive vertical candelabras. Lets face it, fertilization by insect and bird pollinators is the main reason that flowers exist, so why shouldn’t they cheat and have some of the leaves help them along in this regard?

Golden shrimp plants are perfect for pots on patios and look wonderful in borders for a dramatic splash of yellow. Put them against a dark background and they’ll really stand out. They can grow up to about six feet tall, but to reach that height and still look as if someone cares, they’ll need regular, sensible pruning. All you need to do is cut it back by about a half a couple of times a year. It may look a bit brutal, bit it will bounce back joyfully.

These things are sun worshipers, but they don’t get into the same state as their human counterparts. While the Patong tourists go steadily pinker by the hour, these permanent residents just look even healthier. The golden shrimp’s leaves become greener, and the original half dozen or so candles you have when you bring the plant home from the garden center will quickly multiply in number. Lots of sun, high humidity and a fair amount of water is all it will demand. It could have been invented for Phuket.

Another bonus for the golden shrimp plant is how ridiculously easy it is to propagate. Just cut an eight- to 10-inch long stem, strip off the lower set of leaves, plant it and a young shoot should soon start growing from the leaf joint. Put it in moist potting soil or sand, keeping one or two sets of leaves above the soil line. Place them in the shade initially and they should root really easily, at which time they can be planted outside to enjoy the sun.

If there’s a somewhat confused American tourist in Phuket who met an odd Englishman on Hadrian’s Wall a few years ago then probably I owe her an apology. She may even be baking herself on a Phuket beach as we speak. I’ll let the Thais take it from here. Happy barbecuing.



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