Sunday, May 9, 2010

Coral bean ~ Elizabeth Smith

Coral bean, originally uploaded by Elizabeth Smith.

If you wander through a park or the woods in southwest Florida in late spring, and come across a leafless shrub with dark brown stems and covered with bright red tubular flowers, it’s most likely the distinctive coral bean. I’ve always admired this plant, but had never learned much about it. This was my opportunity!

Sketching and researching coral bean was fascinating; capturing the vivid lipstick red flowers not just a simple matter of filling in the outlines. Several plants dotted the higher elevations of Freedom Park, so I was able to find one with emerging leaves and one that had a ripening seedpod.

Coral bean is placed in the bean family. In the fall, the ripe seedpods turn dark and open to display bright red seeds that are poisonous. There are reports that early folk medicine used the bark and leaves for various ailments, sometimes, however, with fatal results. The beautiful red and black seeds were strung for jewelry and used in crafts. Since coral bean contains a curare-like alkaloid, I suggest enjoying the beauty of this shrub in the landscape!

If you click on the image above you can see it larger on my Flickr photostream.


  1. Great sketch Elizabeth, and the pods are instantly recognisable! We have the Coral trees growing at the coast and I had one just outside my holiday apartment - collected a cup full of the little beans, they make a great display in a little dark brown wooden bowl.

  2. Love the info and am lusting after some of those seeds for my collages.


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