Erythrina crista-galli: Coral Tree

Cool conditions are definitely a must for growing the species successfully. This popular shrub, so admired in botanical gardens when it is in flower, goes through a period of complete rest in winter at temperatures only a few degrees above freezing point and in absolutely dry conditions. The reason for this is obvious, for it is native to the campos (savanna woodlands) of Brazil where it grows on sandy and stony soils.

Erythrina is a fairly large shrub, generally about 2 m (6 ft) high. In autumn it should be moved to a spot where it can be provided with the cool conditions already mentioned, such as a cool conservatory. When growth starts in spring the plant should be hardened off by ventilating its growing area and around mid-May it should be moved outdoors and the pot plunged in the ground. Once the leaves appear the plant should be watered regularly, allowing the soil to dry out only partially between waterings — the roots must not be continually in water.

During the summer the plant produces long, thick shoots which, like the stalks of the odd-pinnate leaves, are furnished with long spines. If given the proper care, come September it will bear flowers which are truly worth the effort required for its cultivation. Each cluster, of which there are several, contains some 50 large pea-shaped flowers coloured a beautiful cherry-red.

The fruit is a pod. The seeds have good powers of germination but it takes a number of years (4 to 5) before even well-cared-for seedlings develop into flower-bearing specimens. It is better to propagate the plant by cuttings, taken in spring together with a piece of old wood and rooted at a moderate temperature in a sand and peat mixture. They will reach flower-bearing size within two years.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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