Bouquets

July Bouquet: Bean Tree

Here's how to grow this month's colorful beauty, the Argentinian Bean Tree:


Latin Name

Erythrina x bidwillii

Common Name

Argentinian Bean Tree

Family

Fabaceae, the Pea family.

What kind of plant is it?

Ornamental tree.

Hardiness

Zones 9 - 10.

Habit

Upright and spreading; often briefly deciduous.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Fifteen to twenty feet tall and almost that wide.  Much smaller at the cooler end of its range.

Texture

Dense.

Grown for

its quick and densely-leaved growth.  Where it's hardy as a tree (Southern California, e.g.), Bean Trees of various species are likely to be grown more for screening, quick shade, and tolerance of both pruning as well as drought.  Their spectacular flowers are, amazingly, an afterthought.

its flowers: long spikes (to two feet!) at the end of each new branch tip, of vermillion lobster-claw-like flowers.  Hummingbirds adore them.

its flexibility:  Plants can be grown as free-range shrubs or small trees, or can be pollarded or even coppiced in early Spring to control the size.  The resultant lush new growth is very fast, and each stem typically produces a bloom spike. 

Flowering season

Summer. 

Culture

Full sun with just about any reasonable soil; grows faster when it gets enough water.  Excellent drainage in the Winter is important.

How to handle it

In climates mild enough to grow outdoors year-round, this large shrub or small tree can grow free-range.  If grown for screening, prune in early Spring to control size and stimulate the new growth that will keep the foliage coverage dense.

In slightly cooler climates, E. x bidwillii will be a shrub instead of a small tree.  Cooler still, it will die back (or you can prune it back) to a strangely-bulging and contorted stumpy base, which will need protection from freezing if it's to overwinter.  In climates cooler still, this plant grow almost like a perennial, sprouting from the very base of the lowest stems.

Can also be grown in containers.  Coppice in early Spring, and you'll be rewarded by June (and, occasionally, later in the season as well) with the astounding flower spikes.  Let a very light frost hit the foliage and hustle the plant into dormancy.  Cut off that season's stems to make the plant nicely compact, then move it—dormant, leafless, and happy—to a dark frost-free spot for the Winter.  It will need little or no water.  Bring into warmth and light in Spring to start the cycle again. 

Downsides

Could there be any price too great to pay to have these spikes of flowers?  Besides, in my experience, Bean Trees are easy, spectacular, accommodating, and long-lived.

Variants

There are dozens of Erythrina species, hybrids, and cultivars to try, from perennials to large shade trees.  Native to most subtropical and tropical regions world-wide, they are deservedly popular around the globe.  The flowers are usually but not always orange to vermilion, but pink as well as white flowers can be had, too.  Erythrina variegata 'Orientalis' is an unusual tree for the tropics, with its bright yellow leaves veined in green.  (Who knows why, but for all the profusion of tropical species with colorful and variegated leaves, very few of them are trees.)  I haven't yet been successful in keeping one happy in a container, but will try again.  

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

Cuttings.

Native habitat

South America



  

 

 
 
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