Erythrina humeana is deciduous, large shrub or a small upright tree. It has deep scarlet ‘Coral-tree’ flowers in summer, from October to April, long after the threat of frost is past. Surprisingly cold hardy, this is a very good alternative to Erythrina lysistemon (Common Coral-tree) in cold or small gardens.

Erythrina humeana plants grown as shrubs in a cluster

Family:                                      FABACEAE                        (Legume family)

Sub-Family:                               PAPILONOIDEAE           (Sweet-pea sub-family)

Name Derivation:

  • Erythrina  – from the Greek ‘erythros’ meaning red, and refers to the bright red flowers.
  • humeana – in honour of Sir Abraham Hume (1748/9 – 1838), director of the English East India Company, who cultivated many exotic plants in his famous garden at Wormleybury, Herts.

Common Names:

Dwarf coraltree (Eng), kleinkoraalboom (Afr), mokhupye (Nso), umsinsana (Swa & Zul) and umsintsana (Xho).

SAF Number:                    263.1                                              

 

Features of Erythrina humeana

 

Bark of Erythrina humeana is smooth, grey brown with vertical striations.

Erythrina humeana has a rather smooth brown-grey bark with vertical striations and scattered thorns.

Form:

A deciduous shrub or small, upright tree.

Size:           1 – 3 m (–4 m) by 1 – 3 m.

Stem and Bark:

  • Smooth, grey brown with vertical striations.
  • Branchlets green to grey-green.
  • Scattered small hooked thorns and prickles.

Thorns:   Small curved thorns and prickles.

Foliage:

  • Deciduous.
  • Compound, tri-foliate leaves (up to 30 cm).
  • Leaflets are triangularly lobed, the apex lobe long, narrow and pointed.
  • There are small, hooked prickles on the underside of the petiole (leaf stalk) and along the main leaf veins on the underside of the leaves.

 

 

Erythrina humeana leaves are tri-foliate and have prickles along the leaf axils and petiole.

The leaves are tri-foliate with triangular shaped leaflets.

Erythrina humeana flowers are elongated, pea-flower shaped, bright scarlet.

Erythrina humeana flowers are borne on long (50cm), narrow spikes.

The fruit of Erythrina humeana is a sickle-shaped pod with distinct constrictions between each seed.

The fruit of Erythrina humeana is a sickle-shaped pod that splits open when ripe to reveal the bright orange seeds.

Flowers:

  • The flowers are elongated, pea-flower shaped, bright scarlet.
  • The flowers are borne on long (50cm), narrow spikes.
  • Shrubs in full flower are very showy.
  • Flowers are borne after the leaves have grown back.

Colour:          Bright ‘fire-engine’ scarlet.     

Flowering Months:         Sep – Mar, peak Dec – Feb.

 

Fragrance:       Not scented.

Fruit:

  • The fruit is a long (to 16cm), sickle-shaped pod.
  • There are distinct constrictions between each seed.
  • Pods turn purplish-black and split open to reveal the bright orange-red seeds.

Growing Erythrina humeama

fmIn the Garden:

  • Very showy when in flower, Erythrina humeana deserves a home in all gardens.
  • In larger gardens, plant in groups of 3 or more with a contrasting plant like Plumbago ariculata, Euryops pectinatus or Felicia ameloides.
  • In small gardens it can be used as a feature shrub or small tree.
  • A good alternative to other Coral Trees in cold gardens as the flowers are unlikely to frost.
  • A good plant for a wildlife friendly garden, attracting insects and many birds.
  • Water-wise plant.
  • May be pruned to shape.
  • It is recommended to prune at least lightly each spring as the flowers are borne on new growth.
  • Makes a very good container plant.
  • Fast growing, up to 1.5m a year, even plants frosted right back will be flowering by New Year.

Soil Needs:        A humus rich soil with good drainage.     

 Care:

  • A low maintenance plant.
  • May be pruned to shape.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost
  • Leaves are prone to attack by psyllids, causing bumps on the leaves. Although unsightly, these do not hurt the tree. You can spray with an organic insecticide like Vegol or Neudosan.
Erythrina humeana flowers can be contrasted nicely with yellow flowers of Peltophorum africanum.

A Diospyros lyciodes guerkei plant in our nursery pruned up to form a neat small tree.

A flowering Erythrina humeana contrasted with the blue leaves of a cycad.

A flowering Erythrina humeana contrasted with the blue leaves of an Encephalartos lehmannii (Karoo Cycad) in a National Botanical Garden.

The red seeds of Erythrina humeana plants remain attached after the pods  split open.

The red seeds of Erythrina humeana remain attached after the pods split open.

Cold Hardiness:     Surprisingly cold hardy.        

Water Requirements:     Drought hardy and water-wise.

Light Requirements:     Full sun to partial shade.

Space Requirements: 

  • Plant 1 – 2m apart and prune to create an impenetrable hedge.
  • Plant 3m or more apart for individual plants.

Roots:          Unlike other Coral Trees, the roots are not aggressive.        

 

Ecology of Erythrina humeana

Birds:

  • Sunbirds, white-eyes and bulbuls feed on the nectar produced by the flowers.
  • Grey Go-away-birds eat the flowers.
  • Insectivorous birds are attracted to the insects that come to the flowers.
  • The seeds are eaten by Brown-headed Parrots (where these occur).

Bees:   The nectar rich flowers attract bees, adult butterflies and other insects.

Butterflies:

  • Adult butterflies feed from the flowers.
  • May be larval host to some moth species.
A Grey Go-away-bird eats fruit and some flowers.

Grey Go-away-birds will feed on the mature Erythrina humeana.

An Erythrina humeana plant flowering in habitat in Mkuzi Game Reserve.

An Erythrina humeana plant flowering in habitat in Mkuzi Game Reserve..

A photograph of a flowering Erythrina humeana in habitat in Weenen Nature Reserve.

A photograph of a flowering Erythrina humeana in habitat in Weenen Nature Reserve.

Medicinal:

  • A root extract is used externally to treat sprained limbs.
  • An extract of root taken with water is used to treat tuberculosis and bronchitis.
  • Plant considered having magical properties.

Poisonous:         Poisonous but not considered dangerous to humans.

Notes of interest:

  • The seeds do contain toxins, but the highly resistant seed coat needs to be damaged for the toxins to be digested.
  • Although Erythrina alkaloids are known to be toxic, use in traditional medicine suggests analgesic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities.
  • The wood is white and very soft.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in the EC, KZN, Swa, M, L, and southern Moz.
  • Erythrina humeana is endemic to southern Africa.

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands, savanna-lowveld, and savanna-bushveld.
  • Found on rocky ridges, outcrops, on termitaria and  in forest margins

Links to other species of the Erythrina genus:

To go to the “plant blog” click on the picture or the plant name below the picture. 

References:

Boon, Richard  “Pooley’s Trees of Eastern South Africa, a Complete Guide”  2nd ed. 2010  Flora & Fauna Publications  Durban.

Botha, Charles & Julia  “Bring Butterflies back to Your Garden”  2006  KwaZulu-Natal Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa. Mayville.

Botha, Charles & Julia  “Bring Nature back to Your Garden”  1995  Natal Branch of the Wildlife Society. Durban

Coates Palgrave, K C, edited Coates Palgrave, M C  “Trees of Southern Africa”  2002  Struik Publishers  Cape Town

Hankey, A,   “Erythrina humeana” 2001  PlantZAfrica  Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden               Link  pza.sanbi.org/erythrina humeana

Honig, Marijke  “Indigenous Plant Palettes”  2014  Quivertree Publications  Cape Town

Joffe, Pitta & Oberholzer, Tinus  “Creative Gardening with Indigenous Plants, A South African Guide” 2nd ed. 2012  Briza Publications  Pretoria

Kroon, D M  “Lepidoptera of Southern Africa Host Plants & other Associations, a catalogue”  1999. Lepidopterists Society of South Africa, Sasolburg.

Palmer, E & Pitman, N  “Trees of Southern Africa Volume 3”  1973  A A Balkema  Cape Town

Schmidt, E, Lotter M  Cleland W  “Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park  2002  Jacana  Johannesburg

Van Wyk, A, van den Berg, E, Coates Palgrave, M & Jordaan, M  Dictionary of names for southern African trees”  2011..Briza Publications  Pretoria

Wikipedia  “Erythrina humeana”     Link:  Erythrina humeana

Woodhall, Steve  “Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa”  2nd ed 2020  Struik Nature

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2011 & 2021.