Erythrina is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae. It contains about 130 species, which are distributed in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. They are trees, growing up to 30 m (98 ft) in height. The generic name is derived from the Greek word ερυθρóς (erythros), meaning “red,” referring to the flower color of certain species.
Particularly in horticulture, the name coral tree is used as a collective term for these plants. “Flame trees” is another vernacular name, but may refer to a number of unrelated plants as well. Many species of Erythrina have bright red flowers, and this may be the origin of the common name. However, the growth of the branches can resemble the shape of sea coral rather than the color of Corallium rubrum specifically, and this is an alternative source for the name. Other popular names, usually local and particular to distinct species, liken the flowers’ red hues to those of a male chicken’s wattles, and/or the flower shape to its leg spurs. Commonly seen Spanish names for any local species are bucaré, frejolillo or porotillo, and in Afrikaans some are called kaffirboom. Mullumurikku is a widespread name in Kerala.
Photos: Gloria Hubbard