An icon of Africa, Erythrina lysistemon (Common Coraltree, Gewone Koraalboom) grows into a medium sized tree with a well rounded crown. It is well known for its amazing display of bright red flowers in winter or early spring before the new leaves appear. The flowers are rich in nectar and attract many nectar feeding birds and insects.

An Erythrina lysistemon, in full flower, before its leaves regrow, in winter or early spring is a sight not easily forgotten,

Family              FABACEAE                      (Legume family)

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

Name Derivation:

  • Erythrina – from the Greek ‘erythros’ meaning red, refering to the bright red flowers.
  • lysistemon – ‘with one free stamen’, as one stamen is free, the others are joined to each other.

Common Names:

  • Common Coral-tree (ZA) sacred coral-tree (Zim) (Eng), koraalboom (Afr), mokhupye (Nso), umsinsi (Swa), nsisimbana (Tso) mophêthê (Tsw) muvhale  (Ven), umsintsi (Xho) and umsinsi (Zul)

SAF Number:                   245          Zim Number:                   318

Form:                                A medium-sized, deciduous tree with a rounded crown.

Size:                                  5 – 8 m (10) by 6 – 8 m

Flowers:

  • Horizontal spikes of bright red, elongated flowers.
  • Very showy when in flower, especially as the tree usually flowers before the new leaves appear.
  • Flowers are rich in nectar.

Colour:                               Bright red.

Flowering Months:          Jun – Oct.

The horizontal flower spikes of Erythrina lysistemon contains bright red, elongated flowers.

Erythrina lysistemon has trifoliate leaves.

Erythrina lysistemon fruit and seeds

Fragrance:               Not scented.

Foliage:

  • Deciduous.
  • The leaves are trifoliate compound (made up of three leaflets) and dark green.
  • The leaflets are almost heart-shaped (5 – 13 by 4 – 13 cm).
  • The apex leaflet is larger than the other two leaflets.
  • The new leaves are a bright, light green and darken with age.

Thorns:                             Hooked prickles.

Fruit:

  • A long, narrow, sickle-shaped pod, up to 20 cm long by 1 cm wide.
  • The pods hang in clusters and are constricted between seeds.
  • The pods turn black and split open on the tree to reveal the shiny red seeds.
  • Pods may be found Sep – Mar.

 Bark:

  • Bark is pale grey-brown to dark grey, quite smooth but often scattered with hooked prickles.

In the Garden:

  • Erythrina lysistemon has a neat shape and makes a stunning feature tree in a medium to large garden, pavement or park.
  • When in flower it is one of the most spectacular of all trees.
  • Planted with Dombeya rotundifolia (Wildpear, Drolpeer), that has white flowers in spring, they will create a lovely contrast when in flower together.
  • A very good ‘wildlife tree’, attracting a variety of animals, birds and insects.
  • Fast growing, up to 1.5 m per year.
  • Fairly frost hardy, the flowers may frost in black frosts.
  • Water-wise and very drought hardy.
  • Do not plant near foundations, pools, drains or paving as the roots are aggressive.

Erythrina lysistemon, Common Coral-tree, growing in a garden in the Olive Crest housing estate.

 

An Erythrina lysistemon, Common Coral-tree, in flower is one of the most spectacular of all trees.

Soil Needs:                         Will grow in most soil types.

Care:

  • A low maintenance plant.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer and mulch with compost.
  • Protect young plants against the cold in winter.

Cold Hardiness:                Semi-hardy, protect young plants for 2 or 3 years.

Water Requirements:

  • Requires little water.
  • A water-wise plant.

Light Requirements:        More sun than shade.

Roots:             The roots are aggressive.

Birds:

  • Sunbirds and other nectar-feeders will visit the flowers in numbers.
  • Insectivorous birds will come to the tree for larvae that feed on these trees.
  • Flowers and buds are eaten by Grey Go-away birds.
  • Unripe seeds are eaten by Grey-headed, Brown-headed and Cape Parrots.
  • Woodpeckers and barbets favor excavating nests in the soft wood of these trees.
  • Will provide birds with shelter and nesting sites.

Butterflies, Bees and Other Insects:

  • Flowers are a very good source of nectar for bees.
  • May be host to larva of up to 11 moth species.

Nectar feeding birds, like Sunbirds and this Black-headed Oriole, are regular visitors to Erythrina lysistemon flowers.

 Medicinal:

 

  •  This plant is used in traditional medicine to treat toothache, earache, inflammation, rheumatism and arthritis.

 

Poisonous:

 

Seeds are poisonous, but typically pass through the digestive tract too quickly for poison to be absorbed.

 

Notes of interest:

 

  • The grayish wood is soft, light and spongy.
  • Trees are believed to be sacred and are traditionally planted on graves.
  • The seeds are kept as luck charms and often used as beads in necklaces.
  • Branches used as fence posts or to protect cattle kraals often root and grow.

 

A large Erythrina lysistemon, Common Coral-tree in natural dune forest in southern KwaZulu-Natal.

Natural Distribution:

  • Found in the EC, KZN, Swa, southern Moz, M, L, G, NWP, southern Bot, eastern Zim,
  • To the north of southern Africa, the range extends into Tanzania..

Natural Habitat:

  • Grasslands, savanna-bushveld, savanna-lowveld and savanna-woodlands.
  • Grows on mountain sides, in open bushveld, dry woodlands, scrub-forest and grasslands.

Links to other species of the Erythrina (Coral-tree) genus.

 

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© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2012 & 2018.