Cook Islands Biodiversity & Natural Heritage

Erythrina variegata


Coral Tree

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General Information

COMMON NAMES: Coral Tree, Indian Coral Tree, Tiger's Claw, Coral Bean; German Indischer Korallenbaum

TRADITIONAL NAMES: Ngatae (RR MG AT MK MT); Other Polynesian - Gatae (SAM)

GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION: NATIVE e.Africa - se.Asia - Samoa - ?Cooks - ?Societies; n. to s.Japan

COOK ISLANDS STATUS: Native, and probably also Introduced - Polynesian; S.Group only - uncommon to rare; Land, lowlands, coastal

SIGNIFICANCE LIST: Ornamental flowers, Material (Wood); Injurous spines - moderate

KEY FEATURES: Tree to 20m with spiny branches and flowering before the leaves regrow. Leaves with 3 leaflets; each wide-oval, to 25x20cm. Flowers clustered along a spike; main petal spathe-like, dark orange-red, 4cm. Native from Africa to at least Fiji; probably native on some islands eastward to the Societies; otherwise Polynesian or Recent Introduction. Grows on coastal coral-soils. Formerly used to make fishing floats. Dadap is very similar.

SIMILAR SPECIES: Dadap (Erythrina subumbrans) has central-leaflet stalklet without nodules (vs 2 nodules); flowers with leaves (vs. before the leaves); petal red (vs. orange-red to scarlet); pod compressed (vs round); seeds black (vs red to brown). NOTE: During the 1800s its onset of flowering, in late July, was a natural sign to prepare whaling equipment for the imminent arrival of the migratory Humpback Whales.

Enlarged Image of 'Erythrina variegata'

Cook Islands Distribution

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Southern Group: Present    Makatea: Present

Northern Group: -

Key to Symbols

Scientific Taxonomy

Erythrina variegata Linnaeus
SYNONYMS: Erythrina indica [incl. TC/GW]; Erythrina variegata orientalis; Erythrina variegata parcellii [variegated form]; Erythrina variegata picta [variegated form]

TAXONOMY: PLANTAE; ANTHOPHYTA (=Angiospermae); MAGNOLIOPSIDA (=Dicotyledones); ROSIDAE; Fabales (Legumes); FABACEAE

More Information

POSITIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Ornamental flowers, Material (Wood). Comments: During the 1800s the onset of flowering of the Coral Tree, in late July, signalled the time to prepare the whaling equipment in anticipation for the imminent arrival of the migratory Humpback Whales. Wood used for net floats (Wilder, 1920s).
NEGATIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Injurous spines - moderate

IDENTIFICATION: Tree to 20m, flowering before leaves regrow. BRANCHES thick with spines. LEAVES alternate in terminal clusters, with 3 leaflets, stalk to 20cm; LEAFLETS rhomboid, uniform green, occas. variegated light green and yellow; central largest, rhomboid to wide-oval, 25x25cm, 2 nodules on stalklet. FLOWERS terminal spike to 25cm, blooming serially from base; orange-red to scarlet; main petal (=standard) spathe-like, 45mm; stamens and style, clustered, red, 40mm. FRUIT pod, to 20x2cm. SEEDS large, 20x10mm, red to red-brown. Flowering July to September.

GENERAL NOTE: The Coral Tree has similar traditional names throughout Polynesia: Gatae (Samoa), Ngate (Niue), Ngatae (Tonga, Cook Islands), 'Atae (Societies), and Natae (Marquesas). The Hawaiian name of Wiliwili Haole is indicative of a Recent Introduction. In Fiji it is considered to be indigenous, and Smith has it as indigenous to the Societies and Marquesas, with "sometimes introduced". A coral-tree, probably this species, is present in the earliest pollen records for Mangaia, dated at 7300 years B.P.[Ellison 1994]. In former times on Mangaia the month of Maru was associated with the kingfisher and Black-winged Petrel making nesting holes, and by the flowering of Ngatae.

Vouchers & References

None Recorded.

p.460 Neal - In Gardens of Hawaii
p.446 Hortus 3rd
p.437 Royal Hort. Soc. Index of Garden Plants
p.555 Tropica
p.3/204 A.C.Smith - Flora Vitiensis Nova
p.276 A Cheeseman - Flora of Rarotonga
p.58 Wilder - Flora of Rarotonga
p.362b Whistler - Ethnobotany of the Cook Islands

Data Update History (information):
zTX, zB02, zM02, zupM03a, zD02

Web Resources

Citation Information

McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at Copy citation to system clipboard
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