Coral Bean Tree red flower spikes Coral tree                           Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960


FOR RELEASE: October 6, 2002
 Daniel F. Culbert,  County Extension Director

                                                          CORAL BEANS & SUNSHINE TREES
 This past week our latest crop of Master Gardeners were studying ecosystems at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area.  Among the plants they found thriving in this beautiful county park was Coral Bean, a native flowering shrub that is colorful, attractive to hummingbirds, but has poisonous seed.  A close look at this shrub may show why it is related to a tropical tree that is popping up all over the Treasure Coast - the Sunshine Tree.

 Both of these plants are worthy of planting in your Florida Yard, the subjects of today's column.  University of Florida's
Extension Specialist Edward F. Gilman has provided information on these landscape plants and has compiled detailed information in fact sheets available from our office.  Both of these colorful plants are members of the Bean family. They share trifoliate leaves, brilliant clusters of red flowers, and pods with seed containing poisonous compounds. According to University of Miami Biology professor Thomas. J. Herbert, there are approximately 110 species of   Erythrina  worldwide.   Most of these plants are tropical, and many are prized ornamentals due to their showy flowers.

 Coral Bean
 The Coral Bean  (Erythrina herbacea)  is a native of the Southeastern US.  It is also called Cardinal Spear or Cherokee-Bean. This shrub rarely exceeds a height of 8 feet in the northern and central sections of Florida, but may reach to 20 feet in the southern part of our state.  The Coral Bean has compound leaves composed of three shallow-lobed leaflets.  The leaves are 6 to 8 inches long, while each leaflet is one to two inches in size.  The light to medium green leaves have prickles on the  midribs under the leaflets.  Coral bean stems are also armed with short, recurved spines.

 In south Florida, the slender, multiple trunks are covered with pale, thick bark.  Scarlet, tubular flowers are borne in 2-foot-long terminal bunches from April to June.  These flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds. The showy fruits of the Coral Bean are drooping pods that are constricted between the seeds.  These pods split in the fall to reveal the beautiful, scarlet seeds.  In winter, this semi-deciduous plant will be mostly without leaves except for the attractive fruit.

 Coral Bean can be planted in Florida Yards to give a woodland planting a naturalistic, informal effect.  The bright red flowers add beautiful highlights to any landscape. It can be planted along a fence where it will climb alone and cover it.  It should be grown in full sun or partial shade. It is tolerant of a wide range of soils but prefers one that is fertile and well-drained.  Fertilize this plant once or twice each year as it is getting established, and cut back the dead tops in the winter.

 Coral Tree
 The Coral Tree (Erythrina variegata var. orientalis ) has become popular as an accent tree in our area.  There are several other common names used for this plant, the Lenten Tree, Indian Tiger's Claw and locally it is marketed as the Sunshine Tree.  (There is even disagreement on the botanical name for this tropical plant.)

 It has big broad light green leaflets which  are six inches long, and are strikingly variegated with creamy to golden yellow veins.  This fast-growing tree may reach 50 feet tall and wide in frost-free locations.  But because of its cold sensitivity,  planting this tree in sites exposed to colder temperatures may be risky.  Be aware that it is deciduous - and it is resting in winter, not dead. 

 In spring, before the leaves re-appear, Coral Tree is decorated with showy red blossoms.   The flowers lack fragrance and in dry times are a source of moisture for birds.  Each flower is more than two inches long and arranged in dense, six-inch long clusters called racemes. These blooms are followed by 12-inch long, red/brown seed pods which produce poisonous seeds.

 The large size of Coral Tree makes it suited for planting in parks, golf courses and in other large-scale landscapes.   In
residential landscapes it may grow too large if not stunted by cold. Multiple trunks can grow from the lower portion of the trunk,  giving rise to a wide spreading canopy casting dense shade.  Lower branches will droop to the ground if they are allowed to remain on the tree. Give this tree plenty of room to develop since the canopy is large and the tree looks wonderful with a symmetrical crown.  Because the trunk often flares at the base, plant it at least 10 feet from a sidewalk or driveway.  Coral Tree should be grown in full sun on well drained soil. Trees are highly drought-tolerant and moderately salt-tolerant.  Propagation is by seeds, cuttings, air layering or division.

 If you would like the Extension fact sheets on Coral Bean or the Coral Tree, consult our website at  or call or stop by our office.  For other questions about Florida Yards, our office holds Master Gardener Clinic hours at the Extension office (1028 20th Place, Suite D, Vero Beach) during office hours, Wednesday morning at the North County Library in Sebastian, and the first Saturday of the month at the Environmental Learning Center.   Our phone number is 770-5030, and you can email us at