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A Floridata Plant Profile #879 Erythrina variegata
Common Names: coral tree, lenten tree, tiger claw
Family: Fabaceae/Leguminosae (bean Family)
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tree  Attracts Hummingbirds Drought Tolerant Flowers

coral tree
A coral tree covered in blossoms brightens the winter landscape at Miami's Fairchild Tropical Garden in South Florida.
Coral tree is a picturesque, broad and spreading, deciduous tree that can get 60-80 ft (18.3-24.4 m) tall and spread 20-40 ft (6.1-12.2 m). It has many stout branches that are armed with black tiger's claw spines. There are curved spines (really more like prickles) on the long leaf stalks too. The leaves are compound, with three diamond shaped leaflets, each about 6 in (15.2 cm) long. Before the leaves come out in late winter or early spring, coral tree puts on a spectacular show with bright crimson flowers 2-3 in (5.1-7.6 cm) long in dense terminal clusters. It may flower a little during the summer, too. The beanlike pods that follow the flowers are cylindrical, about 15 in (38.1 cm) long, and constricted between the reddish brown seeds. The naturally occurring variety orientalis has the veins of its leaflets highlighted with yellow or pale green. 'Parcellii', with yellow variegated leaves, may be just another name for the same variety. 'Alba' has white flowers.

Coral tree has a very large natural distribution. It is native to tropical Asia, from Taiwan and southern China through the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Southeast Asia, India, islands in the Indian Ocean and all the way to tropical east Africa.

coral tree flowers
Coral tree's smooth gray bark provides a background for the brilliant flower cluster.
Coral tree is a fast growing tree that does best in frost free climates with a pronounced winter dry season.
Light: Full sun.
Moisture: Coral tree is tolerant of drought, and needs almost no water at all in winter.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 12.
Propagation: Coral tree is propagated by seed or from woody tip cuttings. Seeds should be nicked or scratched with a file to break the hard outer shell before planting. Seedlings may flower in as little as 3-4 years. Take softwood tip cuttings in spring or early summer and semiripe cuttings in late summer. Root with bottom heat. Coral tree also can be propagated by layering.

variegated coral tree foliage
The coral tree variety orientalis has leaves with striking yellow markings.
Very tolerant of drought, the beautiful coral tree makes an excellent stand-alone specimen for South Florida gardens where water is becoming more valuable than gasoline. Coral tree also is salt tolerant, and often used in tropical and subtropical seaside landscapes.

There are about 100 species of Erythrina, including the southeastern U.S. native coralbean (E. herbacea). Only coralbean and cry-baby tree (E. crista-galli) can survive in areas that get frost; all the others are tropical trees and shrubs.

Seeds of all Erythrina species are reported to be poisonous if ingested. The tiger's claw spines of coral tree can snag clothing and skin.

Steve Christman 12/2/00; updated 1/14/04

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