Erythrina x blakei
Blake’s Coral Tree, Fireman’s Cap
In fine colour over the summer is a relatively uncommon Erythrina, a species belonging to the Flame Tree group of plants that belong to the legume Family
This Erythrina grows gradually to a maximum of 6 metres but more usually 2.5 to 3 metres. The branches die back each winter, so growth is only slow. In the spring new shoots grow rapidly and when about 50cm long a 50cm terminal raceme forms which is covered with bright red, humming bird shaped flowers which persist for quite a long time.
The leaves are trifoliate and have the interesting habit of following the sun to get the best advantage of light.
The southern USA parent (E. herbacea) is pollinated by hummingbirds. This species has long tubular throated flowers while the other parent the well known E. christa-galli (Coral Tree) from Brazil, has a much shorter, flared throat so that perching birds can do the pollination. Cross the two and you have an intermediate type flower. I find that the Tuis enjoy the nectar but we never get seed because it is a hybrid.
Another interesting story I found is that the original cross was done in the early 1840s by a William McArthur of NSW, Australia who was a horticulturist. One reference implied that he bought the original parent plants in New Zealand. Erythrina x bidwillii was the first Australian hybrid plant to be illustrated in a book.
I find that taking cuttings from more mature wood over the winter is reasonably easy though some references say it is not easy. They will grow in a wide range of soils but prefer free draining ones and will grow in full sun or light shade.
The flowers can be used as a cut flower.
Be careful with any Erythrina seed as it is poisonous. They contain a curare like poison.
One or more species of the 130 species occur on all warm continents of the world and it is thought that the seed has drifted on the sea currents to spread it around the world. Some species seeds are bright red and much favoured for ornamentation, others are brown.
This is a great garden plant which can be kept to the size you want by pruning over the winter.