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.
Family: FABACEAE (Legume family)
Sub-Family: PAPILONOIDEAE (Sweet-pea sub-family)
- 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.
Dwarf coraltree (Eng), kleinkoraalboom (Afr), mokhupye (Nso), umsinsana (Swa & Zul) and umsintsana (Xho).
SAF Number: 263.1
Features of Erythrina humeana
Erythrina humeana has a rather smooth brown-grey bark with vertical striations and scattered thorns.
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.
- 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.
The leaves are tri-foliate with triangular shaped leaflets.
Erythrina humeana flowers are borne on long (50cm), narrow spikes.
The fruit of Erythrina humeana is a sickle-shaped pod that splits open when ripe to reveal the bright orange seeds.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 an Encephalartos lehmannii (Karoo Cycad) in a National Botanical Garden.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- Adult butterflies feed from the flowers.
- May be larval host to some moth species.
Grey Go-away-birds will feed on the mature Erythrina humeana.
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 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.
- Found in the EC, KZN, Swa, M, L, and southern Moz.
- Erythrina humeana is endemic to southern Africa.
- 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.
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.