( = Duvernoia adhatodoides)
Justicia adhatodoides, Pistol-bush, is a very ornamental shrub or small tree that is very desirable as a garden plant. It is evergreen with large, graceful, dark green leaves that give the plant a tropical appearance. It will grow in sun, partial shade or quite deep shade. It has delightful white flowers that remind one of orchids. The fruit is a club shaped capsule that burst open explosively with a loud crack, dispersing the seeds, hence the common name “pistolbush”.
Justicia adhatodoides, Pistolbush, is an attractive garden plant that will grow in partial to fairly deep shade.
Family: ACANTHACEAE (Mackaya family)
- Justicia – named after James Justice (1698 – 1763), who was a Scottish horticulturist.
- adhatodoides – looks like Adhatodoida, another genus in the family Acanthaceae
Common Names: Pistolbush (Eng), Pistoolbos (Afr), uhlwalana (Zul).
SAF Number: 681
The beautiful flowers of Justicia adhatodoides are whorled in 3s around the flower spikes.
Form: An upright, but bushy large shrub or small tree.
Size: 3 – 6 (9) m by 2 – 6 m.
- Showy white flowers with purple markings on the lower lip.
- Flowers have a rounded ‘hood’ that protects the curved anthers and stamen
- Flowers are borne in threes on compact, upright spikes.
- Prolific flowerer.
Flower Colour: White with purple markings.
Flowering Months: Feb – Aug.
Fragrance: Flowers are sweetly scented.
- Simple leaves opposite, elliptic and taper to a sharp or blunt drip-tip.
- Leaves quite large, from 15 to 23cm by 7 to 15cm.
- Leaves are dark green with raised veins below.
- Leaves have a wavy margin and the petiole (stalk) is about 2 cm long.
Thorns: No thorns.
- The fruit is a club-shaped capsule, 3 by 1cm.
- Green turning light brown, covered with very fine hair.
- Splits open with a loud, explosive crack to eject the small seeds.
- May – Dec.
Stem & Bark:
- May be single or multi-stemmed.
- Young stems are purplish-brown aging to dark brown.
- The branchlets are velvety, flattened and brittle.
The large, dark green leaves give Justicia adhatodoides quite a ‘tropical’ look.
The club-shaped fruit that split open explosively to disperse the seeds.
An unusualy large Justicia adhatodoides plant in an office block in Bryanston, Johannesburg.
In the Garden:
- A very attractive and ornamental garden subject.
- Very showy when in full flower.
- Will grow happily in dappled or deep shade beneath larger tree canopies.
- A good plant choice for domestic, school, office complex and home estate gardens and parks.
- Make a good screening plant.
- May be grown and shaped into a hedge.
- Will make a good large container plant.
- Prefers well composted, light soil with good drainage.
- A low maintenance garden tree.
- Can be pruned to produce the required shape.
- Protect young plants against frost.
Cold Hardiness: Cold hardy, but shelter from cold winds and protect young plants.
- Water wise plants.
- Like water in the summer months.
- Take strain in lengthy periods of drought but quickly recover after good rains.
Light Requirements: Partial to deep shade, or some sun.
Roots: Not aggressive.
The flowers are each about 2.5 cm in size and flower spikes may contain up to 3 or 4 whorls of flowers.
Birds like Cape Robin-Chats the like to hide their nests in the foliage of Justicia adhatodoides plants.
Birds including Robin-Chats and Bulbuls will nest within the confines of the shrub’s body.
The flowers are pollinated by Carpenter Bees.
Medicinal: Not recognized as a medicinal plant.
Poisonous: Not poisonous.
Notes of interest:
- The fruit split open explosively with a loud crack to disperse the seeds, hence the name Pistolbush.
- The wood is heavy and close-grained, with white sapwood and yellow heartwood.
EC, KZN, Swa, and M.
Endemic to southern Africa.
- Found in forest margins, along forested river banks, understorey in narrow kloofs and on rocky outcrops.
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2019.