Coralbean

Erythrina herbacea
Family: Fabaceae

Natural History
Trifoliate leaves of coralbean with ripe fruit
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Coralbean, also called Cherokee bean or cardinal spear, is an attractive plant that is native to the southeastern United States. Its showy red , 'firecracker' blossoms and bright coral seeds make this a popular ornamental accent plant in sunny gardens. The flowers attract both butterflies and hummingbirds with their sweet nectar and conspicuous color.

The trifoliolate leaves of coralbean are heliotropic, which means that they twist and turn to change their orientation to the light, throughout the day. This allows the plants to maximize photosynthesis.

Coralbean plants contain alkaloids that are toxic when ingested. While they are generally not fatal, eating the leaves or seeds may cause severe diarrhea or vomiting.

In addition to their attraction to butterflies and hummingbirds, coralbeans are popular with other birds and small wildlife who consume the large seeds in late summer and fall.

Coralbean is found scattered along the coastal plains of the southeastern United States and Mexico. It commonly grows from northern Florida, south into the Keys.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Coralbean grows in a variety of habitats but prefers sandy loam soils and is most frequently found in mesic hardwood hammocks, open, sandy woods, disturbed sites, or clearings. It is somewhat tolerant of salt and may be found in open sites near salt water.
Size/Form: Coralbean is an erect, herbaceous perennial that grows from 3' to 4' tall with a woody base and sharp prickly stems. It may appear vine-like and is frequently multi-stemmed.
Leaves: The leaves are compound and trifoliolate (composed of three leaflets). They are about 6" to 8" long and alternately arranged. The leaves are dull, yellowish-green, and smooth both above and below and are borne on short stalks, with slightly thickened petiole bases. Leaflet margins are entire. Stems are slender and lined with tiny spines. Small, curved spines may also be found on the lower side of leaves.
Flowers: The flowers are bright, scarlet-red, tubular blossoms that are clustered on long stalks and they bloom in May and June.
Fruit: The fruit is a dry pod (legume), about 4" to 6" long that bears bright, reddish-orange seeds.

 

Images

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