Erythrina latissima

Water Needs

dry

Erythrina latissima
Tree small; Tree medium
Broad-leaved Coral Tree

3 – 12 m

Size

Light Conditions

sun

Frost

light

Flowers

red July to October; winter spring

sun; container; rockery; slope bank; wildlife Insects birds butterfly host; feature tree; slope bank;

Garden Situation

Habitat

grassland; woodland forest; bushveld; coastal eastern cape

Region

thicket; subtropical east coast; highveld; bushveld savanna

Rain Season

summer

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Description

While not the most popular or well-known of the Coral tree family, this small beauty does grab the attention with its strong form and shape. For the impatient gardener, it can take too long to reach the mature height of 5 to 8 m, but take heart, for it will flower in the second to third year even while small, and the rather shaggy looking flowers attract birds and insects in droves. Shape and size of the tree are variable depending on the habitat and surrounding plants: shallow soil and limited space can restrict growth into a stumpy and twisted form – and an unusual focal point. In open spaces, the canopy takes on a lovely rounded shape, but, when grown among other tall trees where it competes for sun and space, Erythrina latissima grows tall and graceful. Favoured habitats in the wild are mostly wooded grassland and scrub forest. A tree of marked contrasts, the trunk and branches become quite gnarled and twisted with age, carrying the typical Coral Tree spines along the length of the trunk. And, despite the rough and corky texture, the bark feels rather soft and woolly to the touch. The leaves become tough as they age, yet have a soft, velvety feel when young. It is the leaf size, the largest of the South African Coral Tree species, and rough bark, that makes the initial impact, Leaves and branches form an open canopy, not a species to provide summer-time shade. Leaves are grey-green to dark green and are densely covered in woolly hairs when young, becoming less so as they age. The underside has prominent veins, and margins are smooth and leaf-tips rounded in shape. Leaves grow at the tips of branches forming three leaflets, the side ones being smaller than the centre leaf. Adding to the fascinating contrasts of this species are the striking orange/red flowers; large cylindrical flowerheads form on the tips of long woolly stalks (300 mm), at the very tips of twigs. These cover a still leafless tree in July and continue through to October with fruiting displays following on from November to April. Insects and birds are lured to the tubular flowers – the nectar fills the bottom of the tubes ensuring pollination by sunbirds and other species able to reach the sweet juice. Larger birds eat even young flowers and buds. Seed pods are typical of the genus, long brown cylindrical pods up to 300 mm long; each compartment filled with a small red/orange hard seed. Propagate the Broad-leaved Coral Tree by soaking the seeds in hot water overnight to soften, planting them out the following day in river sand for good drainage. Roots are vigorous and should be planted at least 3 to 4 m away from foundations. It can withstand light frost when mature, but needs protection in the first couple of years. Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga

Erythrina latissima
Erythrina latissima
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