Erythrina humeana is a deciduous, large shrub or small, upright tree. It has deep scarlet ‘coraltree’ flowers in summer, from Oct to Mar, long after the threat of frost is past. Surprisingly cold hardy, this is a very good alternate to Erythrina lysistemon (Coraltree) in cold or small gardens.

Erythrina humeana is, like its big cousins, very bright and showy when it flowers. But its small size and summer flowering make it ideal for both smaller gardens and gardens in colder areas.

Erythrina humeana is, like its big cousins, very bright and showy when it flowers. But its small size and summer flowering make it ideal for both smaller gardens and gardens in colder areas.

Family:                       FABACEAE        (Bean 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).

FSA Number:                   263.1

Form:                                A deciduous, large shrub or small, upright tree.

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

Flowers:

  • The flowers are elongated, pea-flower shaped, bright scarlet.
  • The flowers are borne on long (50cm), vertical, 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:          Oct – Mar, peak Dec – Feb.

Fragrance:                        Not scented.

Erythrina humeana flowers are similar to those of Erythrina lysostemon but the flower spike is longer and vertical and they flower after the threat of frost is past,

Erythrina humeana flowers are similar to those of Erythrina lysostemon but the flower spike is longer and vertical and they flower after the threat of frost is past.

Foliage:

  • Deciduous.
  • Compound, trifoliate (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 trifoliate, the terminal leaflet is arrowhead shaped and the largest of the 3 leaflets.

Erythrina humeana leaves are trifoliate, the terminal leaflet is arrowhead shaped and the largest of the 3 leaflets.

Thorns:                          Small curved thorns and prickles.

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.
The seed pods of Erythrina are constricted between the seeds. When the fruit is ripe the black pods split open exposing the bright, orange-red seeds.

The seed pods of Erythrina are constricted between the seeds. When the fruit is ripe the black pods split open exposing the bright, orange-red seeds.

Bark:                            Smooth, grey-green to green, with scattered small hooked thorns and prickles.

In the Garden:

  • Very showy when in flower, Erythrina humeana deserve 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 plant for a wildlife friendly garden, attracting insects and many birds.
  • May be pruned to shape.
  • Makes a very good container plant.
  • Fast growing, up to 1m a year, even plants frosted right back will be flowering by New Year.
Erythrina humeana planted in front of a Peltophorum africanum (African Wattle) to provide a contrasting yellow background while both plants are flowering.

Erythrina humeana planted in front of a Peltophorum africanum (African Wattle) to provide a contrasting yellow background while both plants are flowering.

Soil Needs:                         A humus rich soil.

Planting spacing:

  • Plant as a specimen trees
  • May also be planted in  groups 1-2 m apart.

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 Biogrow’s Vegol or Neudosan.

Cold Hardiness:                  Surprisingly cold hardy.

Water Requirements:         Drought hardy.

Light Requirements:           Full sun to partial shade.

Roots:                                    The roots are not aggressive.

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).

Butterflies:

  • In warmer parts of the country the plants may be host to the Giant Emperor and Charaxes pelias.
  • In Gauteng may be larval host to Striped Policeman and some moth species.

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.

Erythrina humeana mass planted and grown as a shrub in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. Note the effective use of the contrasting foliage of the 'blue' cycads besides the Erythrinas.

Erythrina humeana mass planted and grown as a shrub in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. Note the effective use of the contrasting foliage of the ‘blue’ Cycads besides the Erythrinas.

Notes of interest:

  • Although the seeds do contain toxins, the highly resistant seed coat needs to be damaged for the seed 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.

 © Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2017.