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Ruellia chartacea (T.Anderson) Wassh. 1987
pronounced: roo-ELL-ee-uh char-TAY-see-uh
(Acanthaceae – the black-eyed Susan family
synonym: Ruellia colorata Baill. 1890
pronounced: roo-ELL-ee-un kull-or-AH-tah
common names: Red Shrimp Plant, Peruvian Wild Petunia, Lobster Claw
Ruellia is named for Jean Ruel (1474 – 1537), French physician and botanist. He translated Dioscorides into Latin, and wrote a general botanical treatise De Natura stirpium† (1536), in which he reported all the botanical knowledge of the time. Chartacea is from the Latin chartaceus, made of paper. This refers to the appearance of its showy bracts. In the synonym, colorata obviously means ‘coloured’.
The plant is native to the tropical forests of the South American countries of Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil and Peru, and, despite the common name, is not related to the petunia.
This is an evergreen shrub that grows up to 2 m tall and about 1 m wide, with thin brown-grey stems and opposite, elliptic to lanceolate leaves with a distinct sharp tip, 15 – 18 cm long by 6 – 8 cm wide, dark green on the upper surface and a paler green below.
The inflorescences are terminal, and formed by showy bright red bracts, up to 10 cm or so long, that persist for many months. Within the bracts are orange-red tubular flowers, 5 – 6 cm long and about 3 cm wide, with yellow throats. The whole is somewhat like a cooked lobster claw, hence one of the common names.
Pruning should be done immediately after flowering both to control the height and to produce more branching. More colourful bracts will also result.
Propagation by cuttings is easy, and it may also be grown from seed.
The plant will not stand temperatures below 5ºC, and likes to be in shady humid positions and sub-acid or neutral soils.
It can be cultivated in a pot, and is very decorative inside the house.
The roots are used in some traditional medicines as an anthelmintic and as an emetic.
† Concerning the Nature of Plants
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions
Photographed in Arcadia, April 2018
Page last updated 15th April 2018