Erythrina herbacea, Coral bean plant
This tropical herbal perennial shrub grows mainly in coastal areas and in sandy, open woodlands, clearings, and in naturalized areas. In cooler zones, it may freeze above ground in winter but will regrow in the spring. Its main attraction is coral-red flowers in a crescent moon shape which are attractive to hummingbirds. It grows well in loamy clay soils and is often used to add color to a garden area.
Coral bean is a low, glossy-leaved, thorny shrub, growing up to 6 ft. with many herbaceous, annual stems arising from the woody lower stem and perennial root. Three arrow-shaped leaflets, one leaf, each have a long stalk attaching to their stem.
Leaves fall in winter and before reappearing in spring, upright spikes of showy, tubular flowers appear on the bare branches. The bright-red flowers, up to 12 inches long in spike-like clusters, occur on the upper part of the stem. There are 5 united sepals and 5 petals 1 1/2-2 inches long, with the upper petal wrapped around the other 4. These are followed by a persistent legume pod containing several bright red beans. The pod is blackish, constricted between the seeds, and up to 8 1/2 inches long. The seeds are rigidly attached to the pod by a sturdy 1/8-inch-long thread and will remain in place for months.
Seeds are poisonous to humans if eaten and can especially be a problem for children due to their smaller size. Sensitivity to a toxin can vary by person characteristics and susceptibility and by plant season. If propagating from the seeds, they should be collected in the fall and well fumigated and stored in a secure container, away from children. Scarify or scratch the outer coat of the seeds before planting in the spring.
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