Spathodea campanulata vs. Erythrina caffra

Erythrina humeana:
Erythrina humeana

UPDATE: 9/8/2010 An alert read corrected my identification of E. humeana as Spathodea campanulata. I was uneasy about the ID and am happy to be corrected, and changed this post accordingly. Thank you Dustin!

Around here there is the orange-flowered tree that blooms in late winter, when it is leafless or nearly so, and there is the orange flowered tree that blooms in late summer, when it is fully foliaged.  The first, Erythrina caffra, is quite common in the neighborhood, while the second, which is Spathodea campanulata, I have seen only one specimen of, and I much prefer it to the first.   There are over 100 different species of Erythrina, some large trees, others small and shrubby, so there is an appropriate version (where size is concerned) for every size garden.  Some are native to southern Africa, others from Mexico southwards  to Central and South America Choose wisely.

Erythrina caffra:
Erythrina caffra

E. caffra has heavy, thick branches.  I've seen several fallen over the years due to one of our Santa Ana wind storms.  They are too heavy for their own good:  their heaviness has no strength.  There were three young trees on our property when we moved in.  The neighbor had stuck cuttings into the ground at some point, and they were fairly substantial trees by the time we bought the property.  I dug them out myself.  This is a tree that can get 40' wide, and there were three of them planted about 5' apart.  You do the math.   They have sharp thorns and survive on little water.  

Erythrina caffra needs careful pruning:
Erythrina caffra

One thing I found astonishing was that as I cut the wood, water dripped out of it.  No wonder it is so heavy.  This is a tree that really needs careful professional-level pruning.  An entire large branch can snap off and is heavy enough to crush a car.  Nearby are some mature trees that have been carefully pruned over the years, and they look beautiful.  There are also some that have been pollarded (cut at the same point every year, leaving lumpy scars that produce thin whippy growth) and they look very sad.  E. caffra is a tree that needs room and professional care. 

Spathodea campanulata with its August flowers:
Erythrina humeana

Spathodea campanulata is a more slender, smaller and more graceful grower here. In its warm, wet, tropical native west African home, it will grow larger, but despite colder, drier conditions, it also forms a gorgeous tree here in Southern California.  It benefits from professional pruning to create a sustainable structure, and lacing out every few years enhances the beauty.  It also has weak wood that is vulnerable to strong winds, so careful preventative pruning and removal of old wood enhances not only beauty but also safety.  Spathodea campanulata is at its stunning best about this time of year, when the deep orange flowers rise above the canopy of the tree.  I never pass this tree in bloom without stopping to admire its great beauty. 

Spathodea campanulata:
Erythrina humeana

Neither do I have in my yard, though S. campanulata is a slight temptation.  But I can and do enjoy my neighbor's specimen every time I walk by.   In the same garden a yellow Lantana (Lantana camera)  that is also in full bloom in late August, makes a wonderful companion to the coral tree:  yellow and orange, intense hot colors for the end of summer. 


Dirr's Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates: An Illustrated Encyclopedia


  1. I admire these trees too. I remember an arborist saying these trees don't flower well near street lights, that it messes with their flowering clock. E. humeana wasn't on my tree radar -- what a beauty.

  2. That's Spathodea campanulata... not a coral tree.

    I like the blog.


  3. Thank you for the correction Dustin, you are right! I thought the owner said coral tree, but I was wrong. Mea culpa.


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