Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Erythrina herbacea

Coralbean, Cherokee bean, Red cardinal

Fabaceae (Pea Family)

Erythrina herbacea (Coralbean)
Loughmiller, Campbell and Lynn
Coralbean is a low, glossy-leaved, thorny shrub to 6 ft. with many herbaceous, annual stems arising from the woody lower stem and perennial root. The long-petioled, leaflets are distinctively arrowhead-shaped. Leaves are alternate, scattered along the stem, 3 leaflets forming the leaf, which is often prickly beneath. The leaves are 3–5 inches long and 3 1/2–4 inches wide. Leaves fall in winter and before they reappear in spring, upright spikes of showy, tubular flowers adorn the bare branches. The scarlet-red flowers, 12 inches long in spike-like clusters, on the upper portion 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 persisent 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 firmly attached to the pod by a sturdy 1/8-inch-long thread and will remain in place for months.

This unusual tropical tree extends its range northward as a shrub or perennial herb, but is killed back to the ground each winter. Planted for the showy flowers and seeds, although the brittle branches are subject to damage by windstorms. In Mexico, the toxic seeds have been used for poisoning rats and fish. Although novelties and necklaces can be made from the seeds, they should be kept away from children.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Size Notes: 6-12 feet.
Size Class: 6-12 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep , Oct , Nov


USA: AL , AR , FL , GA , LA , MS , NC , SC , TX
Native Distribution: Coastal plain from s.e. NC to TX and Tamaulipas
Native Habitat: From North Central to South Texas and ranges to coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico. Well-drained sand, loam, clay. Open, sandy woods & clearings of the coastal plains

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Sandy soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Acid-based, Calcareous
Conditions Comments: Coralbean is opulent with scarlet blooms that resemble numerous crescent moons. Trim dead stem tips after new growth emerges in spring when frost damage becomes evident. Be careful of spines on the stems. The top often freezes back in winter but return with vigor in the spring from underground, tuberous root stumps. The seed pods split open to reveal bright red seeds, providing visual interest long after flowering. The seeds are highly toxic if ingested.


Use Ornamental: Attractive, Blooms ornamental, Fruits ornamental
Use Wildlife: Nectar-hummingbirds
Warning: Seeds are poisonous to humans if eaten. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Hummingbirds

Last Update: 2008-10-31