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Publication #FPS197

Erythrina herbacea Coral Bean, Cardinal Spear, Cherokee Bean1

Edward F. Gilman2


Erythrina herbacea is a shrub that may attain a height of 20 feet but is often smaller (Fig. 1). It rarely exceeds a height of 8 feet in the northern and central sections of Florida. The coral bean has compound leaves that are semi-deciduous, and these 6- to 8-inch-long leaves are composed of three shallow-lobed leaflets. The leaves are light to medium green in color and have prickles on their midribs; the prickles are found on the undersides of the leaflets. The stems of this plant are also armed with short, recurved spines. In south Florida, slender, multiple trunks that are covered with pale, thick bark are formed. Scarlet, tubular flowers are borne in 2-foot-long terminal racemes that can be enjoyed from April to June. These flowers are attractive to hummingbirds. The showy fruits of the coral bean are drooping pods that are constricted between the seeds. These pods split in the fall to reveal the beautiful, scarlet seeds.

Figure 1. 

Coral bean.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Erythrina herbacea
Pronunciation: air-rith-RYE-nuh hur-BAY-see-uh
Common name(s): coral bean, cardinal spear, Cherokee bean
Family: Leguminosae
Plant type: perennial; herbaceous
USDA hardiness zones: 8 through 11 (Fig. 2)
Planting month for zone 8: year round
Planting month for zone 9: year round
Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year round
Origin: native to Florida
Uses: border; mass planting; attracts hummingbirds; container or above-ground planter
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the plant

Figure 2. 

Shaded area represents potential planting range.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 5 to 10 feet
Spread: 8 to 12 feet
Plant habit: round
Plant density: open
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: trifoliate
Leaf margin: lobed
Leaf shape: deltoid
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no fall color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Foliage of coral bean.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Flower color: red
Flower characteristic: spring flowering; summer flowering


Fruit shape: pod or pod-like
Fruit length: 3 to 6 inches
Fruit cover: dry or hard
Fruit color: unknown
Fruit characteristic: inconspicuous and not showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: thorns present; not particularly showy
Current year stem/twig color: green
Current year stem/twig thickness: medium


Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun
Soil tolerances: acidic; slightly alkaline; sand; loam
Drought tolerance: high
Soil salt tolerances: moderate
Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches


Roots: usually not a problem
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: not particularly outstanding
Invasive potential: native plant that often reproduces into nearby landscapes
Pest resistance: no serious pests are normally seen on the plant

Use and Management

Coral bean is often used to give a woodland planting a naturalistic, informal effect. It is also excellent as an accent or specimen plant. The bright red flowers add beautiful highlights to any landscape. It can be planted along a fence where it will climb alone and cover it.

Derivatives of the plant have been used as a laxative. Native Americans ate roots to increase perspiration. The beans have been used to poison rats and to paralyze fish.

Erythrina herbacea should be grown in full sun or partial shade. It is tolerant of a wide range of soils but prefers one that is fertile and well-drained. Fertilize this plant once or twice each year, and cut back the dead tops in the winter.

Propagate coral bean from scarified seed or cuttings; cuttings root very easily.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern.



This document is FPS197, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 1999. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.