Erythrina spp.



Coral Tree.

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Erythrina spp.

Botanical information

Erythrina crista-galli (Cocks comb coral tree) is a deciduous shrub and grows to height of 3m with a spread of 3m. The stem is twisted and covered with thick, blackish bark; the leaves are brilliant green and trifoliate, with large, oval-acuminate leaflets, and the petioles have small spines; the flowers are bright red and pea shaped, occuring in large showy racemes; the fruit are blackish, large, leathery pods, containing several kidney-shaped, brown seeds.

A native of Brazil, it prefers well-drained soils in an open, sunny position, and is drought and frost tender.


Erythrina indica is a deciduous tree and grows to a height of 15m with a spread of 12m. The stem is erect, stout, with rough bark, sparsely branching and thorny; the leaves are trifoliate, with leaflets broadly wedge shaped at the base and 12cm wide; the flowers are orange-red, pea shaped, and 5cm long, occurring in clusters and appearing in late winter or early spring.

It prefers well-drained soils in an open, sunny position, and is drought and frost tender.


Erythrina vespertilio (Bats Wing Coral Tree) is a deciduous tree and grows to a height of 15m with a spread of 5m. The stem is erect, stout, with rough bark,sparsely branching and thorny; the leaves are trifoliate, with leaflets broadly wedge shaped at the base and 12cm wide; the flowers are red, pea shaped, and 4cm long, occurring in lose clusters and appearing in summer.

A native of NSW, Qld, NT, SA, and WA (Australia), it prefers light to medium soils in an open sunny position and is drought and frost resistant.


Progagation of all Erythrina species occurs readily by seed or cuttings. Seeds need scarification to germinate. Cover the seeds with very hot water and let soak overnight or until they swell. Pick out those that didnt swell and repeat process with them. Sow swollen seeds immediately in seeding mix, covering with two to three times their thickness. Do not overwater or allow to dry out and provide good drainage and bright light. Should germinate within a few weeks with pretreatment or many months without.


Traditional uses

Australian Aboriginees used parts of E. vespertilio as a sedative, similarly to the use of some South American species of Erythrina that are employed for better and deeper sleep and to reduce anxiety. The roots and bark of many species exude a deep orange dye, which can be used for fabrics and artefacts. The wood is also used to make artefacts, especially of a spiritual nature. It is very soft and easy to carve. The powdered seeds have been employed as aphrodisiac and deliriant, but dosing is very unreliable and dangerous and should never exceed half a seed. It is also believed that they were used to fortify agave wines and maize beer. The bright orange to purplish seeds are also used to manufacture artefacts and jewelery. The leaves are sometimes eaten although they cause a mild sedation. Similarly the flowers are prepared as a tea to drink before bedtime to ensure a good nights sleep. Mulungu bark which is derived from E.crista-galli is a potent sedative and muscle relaxant.


Pharmacology

All Erythrina species contain Erythrina alkaloids, which include erythrane, erythroidine, coralline and others. These alkaloids are found in the whole plant, but especially in the seeds. In small doses they cause sedation, relaxation (especially of the muscles) and if taken before bedtime a long and deep sleep. In higher doses (more than a quarter seed) the effects become exponentially stronger and unpredictable. An initial deep sedation is followed by erratic and manic behaviour ranging from excessive laughter to uncontrollable sexual desires and deep depression. The seeds are usually too potent for accurate dosing, but dried flowers or dried leaves are suitable for teas or smoking mixes.

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