( = 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)    

Name Derivation:

  • 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.


  • Evergreen.
  • 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.

 Soil Needs:

  • 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 Requirements:    

  • 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.

 Natural Distribution:

EC, KZN, Swa, and M.

Endemic to southern Africa.

 Natural Habitat:

  • Forest.
  • 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.