Erythrina crista-galli

Coral Tree is the name given to this plant in its native land – Brazil. The name refers to the colour of the flowers, which may be more than 5 cm (2 inch) long – a rarity in the Leguminosae family. They are arranged in rich inflorescences, sometimes composed of as many as 50 flowers. The calyx is green, short and bell-shaped; the corolla is leathery. The largest petal, called the standard, curves inwards. The other petals – the wings and keel – enclose the stamens and pistil. The flowers are pollinated by birds. The fruit is a legume. The plant typically has thorny branches and odd-pinnate leaves with thick leathery leaflets. It dies back after flowering and produces new growth in spring.

This woody plant does best in glassed-in entrance halls, verandas or conservatories. It requires abundant light and cool dry conditions in winter. The optimum temperature range is 2°-8°C (36°-46°F). Transfer the plants in their containers to the garden or to a balcony in late May. Propagate by commercial seeds or stem tip cuttings taken in April. Plants grown from cuttings flower sooner than those grown from seed, which may take three to four years. To ensure bushy growth, cut back mature plants in February.

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