Batwing Coral Tree

We planted a Bat-wing Coral Tree (Erythrina vespertilio, also known as a Bat’s-wing Coral Tree or Bean Tree) in our garden about fifteen years ago and it is now well above the roofline of our high-set house.  The most obvious characteristic of the foliage is the leaf shape which gives us the first half of its common name:

bat-shaped leaves
Leaves … little bats flying away from their twigs

A characteristic which becomes painfully obvious to those who walk barefoot round our garden is that the tree drops twigs and they are savagely spiky:

branch with thorns
Spiny branch

But why is is a “coral” tree?

red flowers
Flowers

The flowers are the answer but I may never have known except for a visit to the Town Common last weekend. There I saw a small tree in flower:

leafless flowering tree
The tree growing wild in the Town Common Conservation Park

When I got close enough I saw the new leaves and recognised it. It was almost leafless, but a lot of our tropical trees follow the same sequence, losing their leaves during the Dry season, flowering as the Wet approaches and then putting out new leaves. I saw a Native Gardenia in the same state on the same day, while the Kapok trees had mostly finished flowering recently and bore green seed-pods.

The specimen in our garden has never, to my knowledge, flowered; the most I’ve ever seen is a small cluster of buds. I suspect it just gets too much water; I know Poincianas flower much better when not watered – trees on road verges or in neglected gardens lose all their leaves, flower abundantly and then burst into leaf but those that are watered regularly merely lose a few leaves, flower moderately and then resume leaf production.

More information: Erythrina vespertilio on the site of the Australian Native Plants Society (Australia), formerly known as the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants (ASGAP). There’s a related species, the Pine Mountain coral tree, here. Other relations are pests as per the pdf here and web page here. 

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