The coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) is a Georgia native that has made the transition from the wild to Georgia gardens particularly along the coast and across the Coastal Plain.
Coral bean (also known cardinal spear and Cherokee bean) is a perennial, thorny shrub. In the wild, a plant is most often found growing in the sandy soils of open woods, forest openings, and disturbed areas.
Although coral bean will grow in zones 7-10, it is often found growing in gardens in the South Georgia than other parts of the state. Actually, I am surprised this perennial native shrub it is not planted in more gardens. Each spring dark (almost black) stalks emerge from the ground and display a bouquet of bright red blossoms. The contrast of coral bean’s red flowers borne on dark stalks is truly stunning.
The floral show will continue into summer. During this time, plant’s tubular flowers are favorite sources of nectar for ruby-throated hummingbirds and butterflies. Since the plant begins blooming in spring, in many gardens, it is sometimes the only source of nectar available to these nectar feeders.
Coral bean (also known cardinal spear and Cherokee bean) is a perennial, thorny shrub.
Once the blooming period has ended each plant produces a crop of 4-6″ seedpods. When the pods open, they reveal bright red seeds, which offer a splash of color to fall gardens. The seeds are eaten by both birds and small mammals; however, the seeds very poisonous to humans. For that reason, children should be kept away from them.
Coral bean is susceptible to frost. However, unless the plant’s roots succumb to freezing weather, new shoots should emerge the following spring.
Interestingly, plants growing, in locales where freezing weather is a rarity such as South Florida, can grow to be 15 feet tall.