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Erythrina berteroana Urb.

Coralbean, Macrette

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Cultivated here and there as an ornamental, as a living fence post, as fuelwood species, and cork substitute (Duke, 1972). Resides living fenceposts and hedges, the trees have been grown as support in vanilla plantations. According to Little and Wadsworth, it is seldom used for anything but fuel in Puerto Rico. The wood is whitish, soft, lightweight (specific gravity 0.3) and has been used for carving toys and figurines. Cattle and rabbits graze the young shoots and leaves. In Guatemala, flower buds, young leaves, and young twigs are eaten like stringbeans though deemed potentially harmful (Little and Wadsworth, 1964). Poisonous seeds have been strung into bracelets, necklaces, and novelties. Bark yields a yellow dye. Crushed branches are used to intoxicate fish. Corollas of this and other species, placed in hollow leaf stalks, serve as a children's whistle.

Folk Medicine

Reported to be narcotic, piscicidal, poisonous, and soporific, coralbean is a folk remedy for dysmenorrhea and other female ailments (Duke and Wain, 1981). According to Morton (1981), the sedative flower decoction is used for dysentery, hemorrhages and nervousness. Guatemalans believe that tucking the flowers and leaves under ones pillow will make one sleep well. Recently we acquired large quantities for further research in the now-defunct cancer-screening program. Bayano Cuna of Panama use the plant for female ailments (Duke, 1972).


Per 100 g, the leaves and young buds are reported to contain 48 calories, 84.2 g H2O, 4.4 g protein, 0.2 g fat, 10.0 g total carbohydrate, 2.4 g fiber, 1.2 g ash, 108 mg Ca, 80 mg P, 2.2 mg Fe, 220 ug beta-carotene equivalent, 0.19 mg thiamine, 0.19 mg riboflavin, 1.2 mg niacin, and 37 mg ascorbic acid. (Duke and Atchley, 1984). On a zero-moisture basis, leaves contain 304 calories, 27.8 g protein, 1.3 g fat, 63.3 g total carbohydrate, 15.2 g fiber, 7.6 g ash, 684 mg Ca, 216 mg P, 9.7 mg Fe, 12,433 ug beta-carotene equivalent, 1.3 mg thiamine, 0.92 mg riboflavin, 25.43 mg niacin, and 16 mg ascorbic acid (Duke, 1981b). Seeds contain erysodine, erysoline, erysopine, erysothiopine, erysothiovine, erysovine, alpha- and beta-erythroidine (also in the wood), and hypaphorine. Hypaphorine, the betaine of tryptophane is a curare-like convulsive poison. Chawla et al., (1982) report one new alkaloid in the seed extract, 8-oxo-alpha-erythroidine, and 8-oxo-beta-erythroidine in the leaf extract.


Armed tree to 10 m tall, the leaves alternate, trifoliate, 10-35 cm long, the leaflets ovate or deltoid, 5-12.5 cm long, 4-12.5 cm wide, entire shortly acute or acuminate at the apex. Flowers pinkish to red, appearing with the leaves, in terminal racemes, each flower ca 5-10 cm long, embracing 10 stamens, the anthers protruding. Ovary stalked, pubescent. Pod dark brown, curved, moniliform, 10-30 cm long, 1-1.5 cm broad, the beak 2-4 cm long, the several seeds oblongoid, bright orange red, with a conspicuous black hilum (Morton, 1981; Little and Wadsworth, 1964).


Reported from the Central American (and possibly West Indian) Center of Diversity. (2n = 42)


According to Krukoff (1970) E. berteroana is by far the most common species in Central America. It is the common lowland species ascending to nearly 1500 m in drier regions, like the Oriente of Guatemala. Morton (1981) extends the range to 2000 m and to Colombia, noting that it is wild or naturalized in Cuba and Hispaniola, cultivated and naturalized in Panama.


Estimated to range from Tropical Dry to Wet through Subtropical Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones, this coralbean is estimated to tolerate annual precipitation of 10 to 40 dm, annual temperature of 20 to 28°C, and pH of 6 to 8.


According to Martin and Ruberte (1975), this is one of the easiest species of Erythrina to grow. Like most Erythrinas, this probably roots readily from large fence-post sized cuttings. Seeds germinate rather rapidly.


For those risking them as vegetables, the young buds and leaves are probably at their tenderest when leafing out, often in tandem with the commencement of the rainy season.

Yields and Economics

No data available.


With no hard data available to me, I have no reason to suspect that this species would be any less productive than E. poeppigiana, which probably returns ca 25 MT/ha/yr in monoculture, 10 MT/ha in intercropping.scenarios. Nitrogen fixing nodules are reported in Hawaii (Allen and Allen, 1981).

Biotic Factors

No data available.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
last update July 9, 1996