Sunday, 26 July 2015

Erythrina lysistemon The coast coral tree

Family :      Fabaceae  the legume family
Subfamily:  Papilionoideae
English :     Coast coral tree
Zulu:           uMsinsi
German:      Korralenbaum

Erythrina lysistemon occurs over a wide area in a wide range of altitudes and habitats from about the Mbashe River Mouth in Eastern Cape northwards to KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland, Gauteng, Mpumalanga North West Province and Limpopo.  It grows in scrub forest, wooded kloofs, dry woodlands, dry savannah, and coastal dune bush and also in high rainfall areas.
In our area Erythrina lysistemon is found growing in abundance very often as a pioneer tree on sandy soils.

Erythrina lysistemon is a small to medium-sized, deciduous tree with light to medium green leaves and brilliant orange to dark red flowers, there is also a pink variety which was discovered in Zululand and brought into cultivation by Dr Ian Whitton in the late 1960´s. Erythrina lysistemon presents a very striking sight when it brings forth its brilliant orange to dark red flowers on branches free of leaves in the dry winter months.

Erythrina lysistemon is a very rewarding tree that grows very rapidly in particular on poor nutrient deficient soils providing large amounts of bright red flowers and nectar for a large range of birds in the winter months. The flowers produce abundant nectar that attracts many nectar-feeding birds and insects, which in turn attract the insect-feeding birds.
The fruit is a slender green pod which turns black at maturity. The pod splits while still attached to the tree exposing bright red 'lucky bean' seeds.

Erythrina lysistemon provide ideal light shade for a whole range of ground cover plants that need a little shading and as a bonus they are provided with nitrogen due to the nitrogen fixing bacterial in the roots of the tree. If the tree is trained by removing the lower branches are removed.

In recent years Erythrina lysistemon has become very popular as a feature tree in landscaping because of its good clean sculptured growth form, spectacular display when in flower and in particular large mature trees can transplanted with ease at any time of year.
Erythrina lysistemon being a small tree suits even the smallest of urban gardens, in my own garden I have eight specimens and intend to plant a few more this season.

Barbets and woodpeckers hollow out  nest chambers in the trunks of dead trees which later become the homes to many other small hole nesting birds, such as starlings, grey headed sparrows, black tits and others.
Erythrina lysistemon is widely used and enjoyed by mankind. They have been regarded as royal trees, and were planted on the graves of Zulu chiefs. They were planted as living fences around kraals, homesteads and waterholes, and were one of the first wild trees to be planted in gardens in South Africa. The end of the flowering season traditionally has signaled the time to plough and to plant seeds for the next season’s crops.
South African Erythrinas are well known and grown in many other countries with suitable climates in particular in the USA

Erythrina lysistemon is flower on the Ecoman logo.

Erythrina caffra is another very similar but much larger specie is that grows in our area.

English :  Common coral tree
Zulu:        uMsinsi

Erythrina caffra occurs naturally in coastal forests and along wooded rivers northwards along the east coast from the Humansdorp district to just north of Port Shepstone  and again  from lake St. lucia to Lake Sibayi in  Zululand
The branches are armed with prickles, which might serve as protection to herbivores especially when trees are still young. Fully grown trees are fairly drought resistant and can withstand several degrees of frost.
Erythrina caffra should be planted in sunny places in well-drained soil. It can tolerate quite moist soils as it often grows on the banks of rivers and streams. The trees will also put up with dry conditions and poor soils; however, they do not respond well to excessively cold conditions.

Propagation of Erythrina
Both Erythrina lysistemon and Erythrina caffra are best grown from fresh seed because seedlings grow very rapidly and under ideal conditions if fresh seed is planted can produce their first flowers in their first growing season.  Soak the seed in warn water until they swell before planting for rapid results, scarifying the seed will speed up the process.

They can also be grown from large truncheon cuttings but if grown from old wood from a matured tree tend to develop much slower and do not develop to their fully potential. Truncheon cuttings are branches measuring at least 50 mm in diameter with most of the smaller twigs with leaves removed.  The truncheon is planted just deep enough so that it does not fall over, staking would be helpful. Do not plant deeper that 500 mm into the soil.

Michael Hickman
Landscape Design and Rehabilitation Specialist


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1 comment:

  1. I am thinking about designing a garden around the Erythrina caffra- can you recommend other trees to place in the area? The Caffra would be the center point and the other trees would be in the background.