Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Coral-bean - Erythrina herbacea   L.
Members of Fabaceae:
Only member of Erythrina in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
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DistributionStrictly along the southern coast, of Brunswick and New Hanover counties. Formerly known from Carteret County.

This is a Southern Coastal Plain species, found from extreme southeastern NC to southern FL, and then west to eastern TX. It appears to be absent from the Piedmont.
AbundanceRare to uncommon, and highly threatened, along the NC coast. It is not hard to find on the mainland portion of Sunset Beach, near the SC border, but farther eastward and northward, to about Castle Hayne in northern New Hanover County, it is quite localized. This is a State Endangered species, mainly owing to the very high threats of coastal development.
HabitatThis species is almost strictly limited to maritime forests, mainly on the mainland, but it can tolerate some disturbance, and it is found in open woods as well. Some sites are quite sandy -– i.e., contain Maritime Sandhill vegetation. However, as it is not a wetland plant, most of the sites where it occurs are highly threatened by coastal development. There are relatively few protected sites, though a population does occur in Carolina Beach State Park.
PhenologyFlowers from May to July, and fruits from July to September.
IdentificationThis is a most unusual plant, in that much farther south, it can be a small tree to at least 20 feet tall. In NC it is a “sub-shrub” at best, growing only to about 3-4 feet tall. Most plants are unbranched or with few branches. The deciduous or tardily deciduous leaves have an odd shape that renders the plant easy to identify -– three leaflets, each with three rounded lobes that give a leaflet a somewhat triangular look. The flowers are among the most striking of any NC plant; the flowers are bright scarlet/red and tubular, to about 1.5 inches long, and many grow on a naked and terminal stalk to about 1 foot long. Not to be outdone, the pods split open in late summer or fall and expose large red seed, giving rise to the common name.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Cherokee Bean, Red Cardinal, Cardinal-spear
State RankS2
Global RankG5
State StatusE
US Status
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B.A. SorrieNew Hanover County, 2017, Carolina Beach SP. New HanoverBIPhoto_natural
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