How to Grow and Care for the Coral Bean

This shrub is attractive and easy to grow!

Tubular flowers of the coral bean shrub (Erythrina herbacea)

 Seven75 / Getty Images

The coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) is an attractive, showy shrub that holds almost year-round interest. In the spring, the coral bean is adorned with gorgeous ornamental, tubular flowers. In the summer and into the fall, the flowers turn into long pods with brilliant red seeds inside. These red seeds are highly toxic to humans and many animals if ingested. The foliage of the coral bean is heart-shaped and glossy dark green, and the trunk and branches are covered in small curved thorns. The tubular flowers are also highly attractive to hummingbirds who are drawn to the sweet nectar inside of them. 

This shrub is easy-to-grow and requires little attention once established. Learn how to grow the coral bean and appreciate its beauty all year round.

Botanical Name Erythrina herbacea
Common Name Coral bean, Cherokee bean
Plant Type Perennial shrub
Mature Size 8-10' tall
Sun Exposure Direct sun, part shade
Soil Type Sandy, well-draining soil
Soil pH 5.4-7.6
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Red
Hardiness Zones 8-11
Native Area United States, Mexico
Tubular flowers of the coral bean shrub (Erythrina herbacea)
 Pusteflower9024 / Getty Images

How to Grow the Coral Bean

The coral bean is a low-maintenance flowering perennial shrub that grows in warm-season climates around the world but is native to Mexico and parts of the United States. Once established, the coral bean requires little maintenance. It makes a great addition to any garden bed or shrub border. The coral bean shrub is also salt-tolerant which makes it an excellent choice for gardeners living on coastal landscapes.

Caution

Seeds are poisonous to humans if ingested. Take care around children.

Light

The coral bean shrub blooms most profusely when grown in a full sun location. However, it can tolerate dappled sun as well as it naturally occurs along the edge of woodlands and forests. 

Soil

The coral bean is adaptable to a wide range of soil types but appreciates sandy, acidic soil. Ensure that the potting medium is well-draining as the coral bean’s roots cannot tolerate sitting in water.

Water

For the first growing season, water the coral bean once a week to help encourage growth. This shrub does not tolerate ‘wet feet’ and should never be left waterlogged. Once established, the coral bean is considered to be a drought-tolerant shrub and may only require supplemental watering during abnormally long dry periods. 

Temperature and Humidity

To survive as a perennial, the coral bean requires warm temperatures and thrives in USDA zones 8-11. In regions that experience cold winters with freezing temperatures, the coral bean can be grown as an annual if desired. 

Fertilizer

Once established, the coral bean shrub does not require regular fertilizing. However, young plants benefit from fertilization in the spring to help boost growth. Use a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10. This shrub also benefits from annual mulching in the to help retain moisture and protect the sensitive root system from cold temperatures.

Pruning

The coral bean does not require heavy pruning but appreciates light yearly maintenance and general upkeep. Do not prune during the first growing season. In the spring of the second growing season, prune any dead or cold-damaged growth and trim to shape where necessary.

Propagating Coral Bean

The coral bean shrub can be propagated via semi-hardwood cuttings, and division. Semi-hardwood cuttings can be taken in the late summer or early fall, once the stems are almost fully mature. The shrub can technically be propagated by division of the root ball at any time, but it is best to do so once the coral bean is well established with excess growth that can easily be separated. While the coral bean can be successfully propagated by both of these methods, it is usually most efficient to start with a nursery-grown plant or well-established shrub as propagation success rates are variable. 

Toxicity

The seeds of the coral bean are highly toxic to people and many animals when ingested. Ensure that children and pets are kept away from coral bean shrubs.  

Growing from Seed

Coral bean seeds can be purchased from a nursery or garden center or collected directly from the plant. The seeds can be collected in the late summer or early fall. Be sure to always wear protective gloves when handling coral bean seeds as the attractive red seeds are poisonous! 

To help increase germination rates, coral bean seeds benefit from scarification. Plant seeds in the ground once the spring temperatures are consistently warm. If you are planting several shrubs together - ensure the seeds are spaced between three to five feet apart when sowing.