Erythrina senegalensis (coral tree)
One of the coral trees: a scarlet beauty with a sting in its tail.
Erythrina senegalensis A.DC.
coral tree, coral flower (English). More common names can be found below.
Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Wooded grassland, grassland with scattered trees, savanna.
Planted as a hedge; many traditional medicinal uses.
The seeds are poisonous. The bark bears sharp spines.
About this species
The coral tree has nothing to do with coral reefs – the name comes from the stunning bright red colour of its flowers, which appear on the tree in profusion when it is still without leaves. These flowers stand out starkly against the deeply fissured bark, and present quite a show in the wooded grassland which is its natural habitat. But it is beauty with a sting in its tail – the bark is covered in large, sharp spines. Because of this, the tree is planted for hedging. Only a very determined intruder would try to pass through a hedge made of this tree – and a stupid one, too, because a good coral tree hedge is impenetrable. It is a common tree in villages, planted for its medicinal uses and beauty, as well as for hedging.
Erythrina latifolia, Erythrina guineensis
Geography and distribution
Native to Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Niger, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon.
A tree growing up to 7 m tall, rarely to 15 m, with deeply fissured, corky bark. The branches and bark are armed with slightly hooked spines up to 10 mm long. The leaves are composed of three leaflets, each measuring 5-15 × 4-10 cm and having a thorny stalk. The flowers appear in large groups at the end of the branches, when the tree is leafless (in the first half of the dry season). The flowers are bright red and 4-5 cm long. The fruit is a bent, twisted and slightly hairy pod, 7-15 × 1 cm. It is constricted between the seeds, which are bright red.
Reproduction is by seed, but farmers also propagate the tree by taking cuttings. There are no known varieties or subspecies. The corky bark enables the tree to withstand the fires which regularly pass over the West African savanna.
coral tree, coral flower (English); arbre corail, érythrine du Sénégal (French); matiéréré (Badyara); figéra, figẹ́ru, figira, figra, msis (Balanta); kidolin, si foli (Banyun); a-térif, a-tiéril, a-tiéris (Basari); gi-tyelὲr (Bedik).
Threats and conservation
There are no known threats to this coral tree, which is quite widespread and widely planted, though the extensive use of its bark for medicine often causes trees to be almost stripped of their bark.
Conservation assessments carried out by Kew
Erythrina senegalensis is being monitored as part of the Sampled Red List Index Project, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.
This coral tree has a large number of traditional medicinal uses in West Africa. The bark and roots are used against stomach disorders and as a general tonic, and the bark and leaves are used for dressing wounds. The wood is used for making knife handles. The seeds are made into necklaces and used as game counters, despite being poisonous. Erythrina senegalensis is planted as an ornamental and used for hedging.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those likely to be of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 144.34 g.
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Two.
Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive drying without significant reduction in their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)
Germination testing: 85% germination was achieved with a pre-sowing treatment (seed scarified - chipped with a scalpel) on a germination medium of 1% agar, at a temperature of 21°C, with a cycle of 12 hours of daylight / 12 hours of darkness.
Composition values: Average oil content = 12%.
This coral tree can be grown easily and quickly from woody cuttings.
This species at Kew
Erythrina senegalensis is not grown in the Living Collections at Kew, but spirit-preserved specimens are held in the Herbarium, where they are made available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens can be seen in the online Herbarium Catalogue.
Coral tree pods and seeds are also held in the Economic Botany Collection.
Burkill, H.M. (1985). The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, Vol. 3. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Contu, S. (2009). Erythrina senegalensis. Assessment using IUCN Categories and Criteria 3.1 (IUCN 2001). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Lewis, G., Schrire, B., Mackinder, B. & Lock, J.M. (eds) (2005). Legumes of the World. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Saidu, K., Onah, J., Orisadipe, A., et al. (2000). Antiplasmodial, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory activities of the aqueous extract of the stem bark of Erythrina senegalensis. J. Ethnopharmacol. 71: 275–280.
Kew Science Editor: Henk Beentje
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
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