Throughout winter and spring, this small evergreen Brazilian shrub - sometimes known colloquially as firefly - illuminates my garden. It has long suffered an identity crisis, being known (and still sometimes sold as) Jacobinia pauciflora, Jacobinia rizzinii, Libonia floribunda as well as Justicia rizzinii (which is what I have previously referred to it as), before arriving at its present Latin name. Like many members of the Acanthus family, to which it belongs, it is a trouble-free, easy-care plant for warm temperate and semitropical climates, and at just 1 m tall, it can find a place in the smallest of gardens.
From June until October, it is smothered in dainty, pendulous, tubular-bell shaped flowers, each multi-toned in colours of scarlet, orange and yellow. The effect is like that of a shower of embers suspended in mid-air, sparkling in a sunny spot or lighting up a more shady position.
It may layer very gently to form a clump but never enough to be a nuisance. It should be trimmed back when it finishes flowering to promote a compact shape. It can grow in either part-shade or sun, and survives very ordinary soil and infrequent watering.
The airy effect of its blooms provides a pretty contrast to more robust flowers that appear in winter and/or early spring, such as orange or yellow clivias, scarlet poinsettia, camellias and nasturtiums. Shrubby abutilons with their Chinese lantern blooms in a similar range of hot colours are also particularly floriferous when firefly is at its best. Gold or lime coloured leaves also provide a lively foil to its flowers. Blue and purple flowers are stunning partners to the harlequin blooms of firefly, and those which coincide with its flowering period include bluebells, babiana, cinerarias, ajuga, felicia and blue sage bush (Eranthemum pulchellum).