Erythrina humeana, the Dwarf Coral-tree, like its larger cousins, is very showy when in full flower.
Erythrina humeana is deciduous, a 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.
Common Names: Dwarf coraltree (Eng), kleinkoraalboom (Afr), mokhupye (Nso), umsinsana (Swa & Zul) and umsintsana (Xho).
FSA Number: 263.1
The flowers of Erythrina humeana, Dwarf Coral-tree are elongated, pea-flower shaped and bright scarlet.
Form: A deciduous, large shrub, or small, upright tree.
Size: 1 – 3 m (–4 m) by 1 – 3 m.
- 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.
- 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.
Thorns: Small curved thorns and prickles.
Leaflets of the trifoliate leaves are triangularly lobed, the apex lobe long, narrow and pointed.
The pods of Erythrina humeana have distinct constriction between the seed, turn black and split to reveal bright orange-red seeds.
The bright orange-red seeds of Erythrina humeana contrast strongly with the black outer surface of the fruit pods.
- 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.
- Smooth, grey-green to green, with scattered small hooked thorns and prickles.
In 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 plant for a wildlife friendly garden, attracting insects and many birds.
- Water-wise plant.
- 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.
Soil Needs: A humus rich soil.
- 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.
Cold Hardiness: Surprisingly cold hardy.
Water Requirements: Drought hardy and water-wise.
Light Requirements: Full sun to partial shade.
Roots: The roots are not aggressive.
- 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).
The flower inflorescence of Erythrina humeana are thin and upright.
Butterflies, Bees and Other Insects:
- The nectar rich flowers attract bees, adult butterflies and other insects.
- 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.
Each Erythrina humeana, Dwarf Coral-tree, flower is elongated but has the same structure as a Sweet-pea.
- 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
© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.