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Erythrina lysistemon

   (Family: Fabaceae)
Afrikaans: Gewone koraalboom, Kanniedood English: Common coral tree, Lucky bean tree Sotho: mokhungwane Tswana: mophete Venda: muvhale Xhosa: umsintsi Zulu: umsinsi  EDIT
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Plant Type: EDIT  Tree
Height: 6 - 12m
Special properties:
  Drought Resistant (light)
  Has Medicinal Uses
Rarity Status:
Preferred rainfall: Summer
Preferred position:
Full Sun
Tolerated soil:  
  Sand (coarse texture, drains easily)
Biome: Savanna
Flowering time EDIT
              x x      
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Flower colours
Flower type
  Flower info
  Scarlet flowers are carried in short, dense racemes, about 9 cm long, on long, thick stalks. The standard petal (the large uppermost petal) is long and narrow and encloses the other petals and the stamens. Produces its flowers before its new leaves or just as the leaves begin to show.
Leaf shape EDIT
Leaf margin
Leaf type
Bark / Stem type    Has thorns / Spines
Leaf size 170 - 180mm
  Leaf info EDIT
  The leaves are trifoliolate (compound leaves with 3 leaflets), and each leaflet is large, usually up to 17 x 18 cm. The petiole, rachis and the midrib have hooked prickles on them. Apex narrowly attenuate, base broadly tapering, margin entire.
Fruit type EDIT
Fruit colour
Fruit size Length: 150mm   
Seed colour
  Seed info EDIT
  The fruit is a slender, black pod that can be 15 cm long and is sharply constricted between the seeds. The pod splits while still attached to the tree to release bright red 'lucky bean' seeds.
Description EDIT
A small to medium-sized, deciduous tree that grows up to 10 m in height. Produces beautiful scarlet flowers in early spring.
Growing EDIT
Fast-growing, undemanding tree. It does best in fertile, well-aerated and well-drained soils. It is fairly drought-tolerant, but performs better if given water during summer. It is sensitive to cold and grows best in frost free gardens, but will survive in regions with a winter minimum of -7 to -1 °C/20 to 30°F (zone 9) provided it is planted in a sheltered position, and protected from frost when young. This tree prefers dry winters, but it will thrive in the wet winters of Western Cape as long as it is planted in well-drained soil and watered during the dry summers.

It has an aggressive root system and should be planted at leaset 5m away from structures and boundary walls.

Easily propagated from seed, cuttings and truncheons. Seed is sown in spring and summer, in a well-drained, general-purpose potting soil, placed in a warm but shaded spot and kept moist. Soaking the seed overnight in warm (not hot) water is not necessary for germination to occur, but should hurry things along. Dusting the seed prior to sowing, or drenching after sowing, with a fungicide that combats pre-emergence damping off, although not essential, will increase the percentage germination. Cuttings are best taken in spring to summer, and truncheons in late winter to spring. Truncheons are made from part of or even an entire branch which is left to dry and heal for a few days, then planted into a pot filled with sand or even directly into the soil where the plant is to be grown, and kept damp but not wet. If a plant has to be transplanted, this is best done whilst it is dormant, during winter.
Distribution EDIT
Occurs in a wide range of altitudes and habitats from North West Province, Limpopo (formerly Northern Province), Gauteng, Mpumalanga, through to Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal, and down to about the Mbashe River Mouth in Eastern Cape. Further north in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola it occurs in small pockets. It grows in scrub forest, wooded kloofs, dry woodlands, dry savannah, koppie slopes and coastal dune bush and also in high rainfall areas.
History EDIT
The genus name Erythrina comes from the Greek erythros meaning red, both the flowers and the seeds are bright red. The species name lysistemon also comes from the Greek meaning 'with a loose or free stamen' and refers to the 'vexillary stamen' that is free from the staminal tube. The vexillary stamen is the stamen associated with the vexillum, which is another term for the standard petal, and in this species it is free.
The wood is light and cork-like when dry and has been used for making canoes, rafts and floats for fishing nets as well as for troughs and brake-blocks. It has also been used to make shingles for roofing, as the wood is durable when tarred. The flowering of the trees has been, and still is, a good signal to the people that it is time to plant their crops.

Erythrina lysistemon is thought to have both medicinal and magical properties by many people. A tribal chief will wash in water in which bark has been soaked as he believes that by doing this he will ensure the respect of his people. Women about to give birth are given an infusion of herbs to make the birth easier and a sliver of bark from the four sides of the tree is tied around the bundle of herbs before it is boiled. Water in which bark has been soaked is mixed with the root of a species of Cussonia and used as a purifying emetic. Crushed leaves placed on a maggot-infested wound are said to clear the maggots. The bark applied as a poultice is used to treat sores, wounds, abscesses and arthritis. Infusions of the leaves are used as ear drops to relieve earache, and decoctions of the roots are applied to sprains. Erythrina lysistemon does contain a large number of alkaloids that are known to be highly toxic, but its use in traditional medicine suggests that they have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. The seeds are used as lucky charms. According to Braam van Wyk and Piet van Wyk, who are indigenous tree specialists, the seeds also contain toxic alkaloids as well as anti-blood-clotting substances that may be of value in the treatment of thromboses.
Ecology EDIT
The flowers produce abundant nectar that attracts many nectar-feeding birds and insects, which attract the insect-feeding birds as well.
Vervet monkeys eat the flower buds. Kudu, klipspringer, black rhino and baboons graze on the leaves. Black rhinos, elephants and baboons eat the bark. Bush pigs eat the roots, and the brown-headed parrot eats and disperses the seed. Birds such as barbets and woodpeckers nest in the trunks of dead trees, and swarms of bees often inhabit hollow trunks.
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  • VAN WYK, P. & VAN WYK, B. 1997. Field guide to the trees of southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.  
  • PALGRAVE, K.C. 1977. Trees of southern Africa, edn 2. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, Johannesburg.  


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