Erythrina berteroana

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In view of the fact that some tree species are invasive, the world Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) has put in place a policy document on Invasive Alien Species, currently under draft available at Here.

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Related Links
Flowers at Makawao, Maui, Hawaii. 
© Forest & Kim Starr (USGS)
Flowers at Makawao, Maui, Hawaii. 
© Forest & Kim Starr (USGS)
Habit at Makawao, Maui, Hawaii. 
© Forest & Kim Starr (USGS)

Local names:
English (coral bean), Spanish (poro de cerca,pito,pinñón de España,pernilla de casa,machetico,gallito,elequeme,brucal,amapola de cerca)

Erythrina berteroana is a tree to 10 m tall, trunk to 48 cm dbh, crown low, spreading, profusely branched; bark pale, smooth, with many or few broad and conical spines; branchlets smooth, lustrous, spines occasional, pyramidal, to 0.6 cm long, often reflexed at the apex.

Leaves alternate, trifoliate, 10-35 cm long, the leaflets ovate or deltoid, 5-17 cm long, 4-20 cm wide, margin entire, shortly acute or acuminate at the apex; stalks swollen at the base, 7.5-15 cm; blades usually coated with whitish bloom beneath.

Flowers pinkish to red, appearing with the leaves, in terminal racemes, 12.5-25 cm long; each flower 5-10 cm long, embracing 10 stamens, the anthers protruding; ovary stalked, pubescent. Calyx green, tubular; corolla 5-petalled, 7.5 cm long, standard narrow with 3-4 very small petals hidden within.

Pod dark brown, semi-woody, curved, moniliform, 10-30 cm long, 1-1.5 cm broad, the beak 2-4 cm long, the several seeds. 

Seed 5 mm long, oblongoid, bright orange red, with a conspicuous black hilum.

Erythrina comes from the Greek word ‘eruthros’-red, alluding to the showy red flowers of the Erythrina species.


This is a tree of the tropical and subtropical dry to moist forests. E. berteroana is by far the most common lowland species in Central America drier regions.

Native range
Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela

Tree management

Regular pruning is the key to successful management whether for fodder production, mulch or new stakes. Pruning frequency depends on the end use, for the most edible biomass, pruning is best every 6 months, and 1 year for woody biomass.

This is a tree of the tropical and subtropical dry to moist forests. E. berteroana is by far the most common lowland species in Central America drier regions.

The tree is mainly propagated by cuttings; air  layering and marcotting are also successful methods. Roots readily from large fence-post sized cuttings and seeds germinate rapidly.

Poison:  Pito seeds contain toxic alkaloid which are likened to curare (Strychnos toxifera) in action. Crushed branches are used as fish intoxicant. Bark is used to poison dogs and wild animals.

Erosion control:  The tree is planted for erosion control.

  Young branches, tender glossy, green twigs, immature racemes and unopened flowers are cooked as a vegetable. They are marketed fresh or frozen.

Young branches and immature leaves are eaten by cattle and rabbits.

The tree is used as fuel in Puerto Rico.

Timber:  Wood is white to yellow, lightweight with a specific gravity of about 0.25. It is used as a substitute for cork when dry, and also for carving religious objects and toys.

Shade or shelter:  E. berteroana is planted as a shade tree in coffee plantations and pastures.

Tannin or dyestuff: Bark yields a yellow dye used on fabrics.

Medicine: Stem bark contains a prenylated flavonone which has anti-fungal activity against Cladosporium cucumerinum. Flower extract is used as a sedative, for treating nervousness, hemorrhages and dysentery. Leaves and flowers have a soporific effect and are used to induce deep, relaxing sleep. Reported to be narcotic, piscicidal and soporific, coral bean is a folk remedy for dysmenorrhea and other female ailments. 

Nitrogen fixing:  It is nitrogen fixing.

Ornamental:  The living fence has considerable aesthetic value.

It is planted as live posts, fence and live supports for yams (Dioscorea alata) and chayote (Sechium edule).

Soil improver:  E. berteroana mulch has been shown to result in better phosphorus balances, higher microfauna populations and increased crops yield.

Intercropping:  The species is used in alley cropping systems.