Definitions

coral bean tree

Coral bean

The Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) also known as the Cherokee bean, Red cardinal or Cardinal spear, is a flowering tree found throughout the south-eastern United States and north-eastern Mexico; it has also been reported from parts of Central America and, as an introduced species, from Pakistan.

The coral bean grows as a low shrub or small tree, reaching around 5 meters in height in areas that do not kill it back by freezing. Its leaves are yellowish-green, around 20 cm long and are divided into 8 cm leaflets, shaped like arrowheads. Its bark is smooth and yellowish. The flowers are bright red, and grow in long clusters, each flower being around 5 cm long; the tree blooms from February to June. They are followed by pods containing bright red seeds (from which the tree gets its name), which are poisonous enough to have been used in the past as a rat poison.

The coral bean grows in pinelands, hammocks, and disturbed areas. Within its natural range it can readily be grown in gardens. Although its use in gardens is not particularly common, it is popular among those who do grow it as a source of early season color, for its hardiness, and because it attracts hummingbirds.

Native American people had many medicinal uses for this plant, varying between nations and localities. Creek women used an infusion of the root for bowel pain in women; the Choctaw used a decoction of the leaves as a general tonic; the Seminole used an extract of the roots for digestive problems, and extracts of the seeds, or of the inner bark, as an external rub for rheumatic disorders.

Various other systematic names have been used for this plant in the past, including Erythrina arborea, Erythrina hederifolia, Erythrina humilis, Erythrina rubicunda, Corallodendron herbaceum and Xyphanthus hederifolius.

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