DEAR PLANT GEEK, Tell me about a really cool plant for the Sonoran Desert.

Posted Aug 27, 2022

The coral bean (Erythrina flabelliformis) is one of the coolest plants in southern Arizona.

Deciduous shrub (in our region) usually growing to about 4’ high and wide. This is actually a tropical tree—our region used to be tropical, and when the tropics receded, a few tropical remnants adapted to the colder and drier times. In nature this plant is found in rocky foothills and hillsides, and gets frozen back every few years, finding refuge in the deep cracks of those places. Plants take full to part sun, (and flower best with sun) moderate to low water with good drainage.

It has a frost tolerance that depends on the location—if the roots and/or lower trunk is protected, they can take temps down into the low 20s °F. If it doesn’t freeze it can get about 15’ high in our region, (usually about the size of a house where it is protected) and in Sonora it reaches over 30’ high.

This plant has a long dormancy, and leafs out in late spring. Often it flowers before that with gorgeous red, tubular flowers, provided the previous monsoon was sufficient. The flowers are followed by large pods that reveal bright red seeds. Hummingbirds depend on this flower during the spring. This plant is a larval host for various Pyralid and Crambid moths.

Found on rocky slopes, in canyons and along washes from 3,000-5,500 ft. in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico; south into central Mexico.

Thank you JARED MCKINLEY from Spadefoot Nursery for this.