I’ve been in love with the Erythrina Caffra (Coastal Coral) tree since I first laid eyes on one in full bloom. They have them scattered throughout San Diego near highways and parks and the like. This tree drops all of its leaves simply to allow the flowers to grow unimpeded and in full view for pollinators and tree minded people like me. Just look at that color!
Older specimens have one the most amazing trunk and nebri of any tree I’ve seen. Like most African trees, it’s adapted to life in hot and dry climates. It’s canopy is shorter and wider as a result. I’d imagine as a way to keep the soil temperature down and the moisture levels up. But I am only speculating. I love that short wide profile. And the flowers are amazing as well. Great hummingbird attractors.
Even its seeds are a brightly colored marvel.
So, I’ve observed it from afar. Then I coveted it from slightly nearer. Then, I got bolder and snipped a wee bit of it. I tried to propagate it from small green cuttings from the tips of the branches. I did about 24 of them in a small greenhouse. None of them took root and many began to rot. I could’ve used the seeds, but I originally wanted a bonsai of one so it would’ve taken way too long to get the trunk development I would need. Bonsai is an art of patience but it can also allow for a few shortcuts. One of those shortcuts is to start off with a more developed trunk.
I scoured the Interwebs for hours looking for cutting propagation techniques. To no avail. Then I stumbled upon a PDF put together by some remote horticultural school in some small farm community somewhere in nowhere USA. The farmers were using coastal coral trees as natural fences and had a technique to quickly propagate large six foot branches! It was absolutely perfect and if I could find it again I’d ink it here to give these saviors proper credit.
I’ll give you the gist of it below, but if you’re looking for a much more in depth tutorial on how to propagate this species step by step with lovely photos, then check out this article on the subject! For now here’s a quick rundown; basically you remove a large five to six foot branch with a 2″ diameter from the host plant. I did this in a rather illegal fashion from a local park. I picked a part of a large tree that was densely overgrown and near the top of the tree so no one would miss it, but if I got caught it would’ve been trouble!
So…don’t try this at home!! I am a highly trained tree ninja invisible to prying eyes of the man. So, seriously, don’t ever do this! I know how to properly prune a tree and even applied a wound healing ointment after I made the cut. This is still no excuse for this form of illegal field collecting and it’s not something I have done since! PSA complete.
The whole time I was up in the tree sawing away in broad dayight, there was a wayward hobo napping underneath. He never stirred. Even as I descended with my six foot bushy prize. I then dropped the rag top and stuck it in the passenger seat and quickly made haste to secret lair or The Plant Cave.
Next I did what seemed counter intuitive, but was called for in this long lost ancient scroll in PDF form. It said to lean it upright against a wall in a cool dark place like a shed or garage or basement. And then just leave it there for about two weeks. So I did. Even though I was sure I was just letting it die. You see, the sap had stop running and the cut needed to dry out or else it would have rotted. Just like my first 24 attempts did.
Then, I began removing about 75% of the leaves. They would all die off anyways an I wanted all the energy stored in this branches remaining sap to be used for root propagation not feeding leaves that are already not long for this world.
Next thing you need to do is gently and carefully score the bottom twelve inches of the branch, about eight to twelve cuts all around the base of the branch. It’s important that you only cut through the bark and not the inner Vascular Cambium when you make this score. See the diagram below for where that is. If you cut past into the sapwood, your branch will never form the roots it needs to be properly cloned. So, it’s important you dig?
After the second surgery, my branch was ready to become a tree. An exact clone of its host plant in an undisclosed park in an undisclosed city harvested by an undisclosed tree ninja. I planted it with a 50/50 mix of organic soil and pearlite. I kept the soil moist, but not wet, with dry periods in between lasting about three days. Then, after only a month, the first tiny little leaf formed. Then another and so on and so on. I began to water it more regularly and it just took off in the pot.
Then I bought a house which had no trees on the entire lot. I decided that this tree would no longer be destined for bonsai, but instead should be used as a stately medium sized tree on the front lawn. It was the first thing I put into the ground on my property. So it was done with a small amount of reverence and ceremony while my disinterested friend Kevin watched.
Here it is in April of 2013 as it tries to bounce back from all its stresses and tribulations.
As you can see, you can barely see it. Well, as you can’t see rather. This was during it’s flowering stage and it hadn’t begun growing its leaves yet. I figured it was a good time to get it in the ground before the sap began to flow. I added some tree fertilizer spikes around the outer edges of the canopy and hammered them into the soil. Seven months later, it began filling out nicely.
Then, something crazy happened. Just as the title of this post implies, the damn thing had a crazy growth spurt. It grew more than twice its size during last summer. I’m not sure if it was the fertilizer or the lawn irrigation that did it. Perhaps it was the great reverence and ceremony in which it was planted. Either way it exploded. But not in a way that I would expect. It grew outer branches super high and the original canopy kinda stayed the same?! Really blew my mind. The trunk diameter more than tripled and the outer branches reached for the heavens, but the center stayed put. Check it out for yourself.
It’s crazy right? The thing just hulked out. Now I don’t know if this is normal growth for a coastal coral or not, and if someone has any experience with these, I’d love to hear it. Here’s a detail of the old and new growth from this last season.
The new growth’s branch thickness is the same as the original trunk thickness was last spring! So something is going very right with this very happy tree! I can’t wait for the rest of it to catch up so I can have my beautiful stately curb appeal trophy tree. I can already picture the little rope swing hanging from its branches!