Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean 2

Introduction

Erythrina herbacea is a shrub that may attain a height of 15 feet but is often smaller. It rarely exceeds a height of 8 feet in the northern and central sections of Florida. The coralbean has compound leaves that are semi-deciduous, and these 4- to 9-inch-long leaves are composed of three shallow-lobed leaflets. The leaves are dull 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. Bright red, 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 coralbean are drooping pods that are constricted between the seeds. These pods split in the fall to reveal the beautiful, bright red seeds.

Figure 1. Full Form—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean
Figure 1.  Full Form—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean

General Information

Scientific name: Erythrina herbacea

Pronunciation: air-rith-RYE-nuh hur-BAY-see-uh

Common name(s): coralbean, cardinal spear, Cherokee bean

Family: Fabaceae

Plant type: perennial; herbaceous

USDA hardiness zones: 8 through 11 (Figure 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 the coastal states of the southeastern United States, in addition to Texas and Mexico

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native

Uses: border; mass planting; attracts hummingbirds; container or above-ground planter

Figure 2. Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Figure 2.  Shaded area represents potential planting range.

Description

Height: 5 to 15 feet

Spread: 8 to 12 feet

Plant habit: round

Plant density: open

Growth rate: moderate

Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: odd-pinnately compound; trifoliate, made up of 3 leaflets

Leaf margin: lobed

Leaf shape: deltoid (Figure 3)

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen

Leaf blade length: 4 to 9 inches; leaflets are 1 to 3 inches

Leaf color: dull green on top, paler green underneath

Fall color: no fall color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. Leaf—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean
Figure 3.  Leaf—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean

Flower

Flower color: bright red

Flower characteristic: tubular; emerges in clusters on 2' long, terminal racemes

Flowering: late winter to spring

Figure 4. Flower—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean
Figure 4.  Flower—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean

Fruit

Fruit shape: pod with obvious bulbous seed pouches

Fruit length: 2 to 4 inches

Fruit cover: dry or hard

Fruit color: brown

Fruit characteristic: inconspicuous and not showy; bright red seeds

Figure 5. Fruit—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean
Figure 5.  Fruit—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: thorns present; not particularly showy

Bark: pale, thick, rough, and armed with tiny thorn-like spines

Current year stem/twig color: green

Current year stem/twig thickness: medium

Figure 6. Bark—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean
Figure 6.  Bark—Erythrina herbacea: Coralbean

Culture

Light requirement: full sun to partial shade

Soil tolerances: acidic; slightly alkaline; sand; loam; well-drained

Drought tolerance: high

Soil salt tolerances: moderate

Aerosol salt tolerance: high

Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches

Other

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

Coralbean 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 coralbean from scarified seed or cuttings; cuttings root very easily.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern.

Reference

Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Footnotes

1. This document is FPS197, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 1999. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #FPS197

Date: 2019-04-15
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  • Gail Hansen de Chapman