My Big Ass Lady: Update on the Coastal Coral Tree

I know what you’re thinking, “how many times can this fool write about the coastal coral tree?” or “Does he make out with that tree?” well the answers are; infinitely and just a little. Not necessarily in that order. I can’t help it. When I first pilfered a branch cutting from an undisclosed location (definitely NOT in Robb Field in OB), I intended it to be a bonsai tree. I was living in a small but lovely beach apartment at the time, so it was all bonsai for me due to space constraints.

Now that I have a wee bit of land, I can spread some roots. My erythrina caffra (coastal coral) couldn’t be happier that I did either considering the insane growth that this tree has undergone in the last few years. To force this beast into a tiny bonsai pot would seem cruel.

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And this year is no exception. She is just now beginning to wake up from her short winter slumber. All winter long she has been busy sending out miles of hungry roots and storing vast amounts of sugars for what is promising to be a vigorous growing season. Now she is putting out a lovely display of flowers right before she comes into full leaf.

Erythrina caffra will typically bloom before leafing to attract pollinators.

She starts off after winter with her flowers before the leaves really set in. This allows all the pollinators to see the blooms without any bland and flavorless leaves getting in the way. Hummingbirds adore these beautiful blooms. Here’s another tree that is rocking a very impressive bloom with some rando walking a cute dog.

Big fat show off.

After the bloom, it’s onto branch and leaf growth. In my case, at an insane rate. My lady is also developing a beautiful trunk as well. With a little help of some aggressive pruning. Here’s how I pruned her a couple years ago…

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Here’s what the trunk is looking like as of today…

To give you a wee bit of perspective between January 2015 and today, this is what the trunk looked like after that pruning. Notice that the wounds are almost invisible at this point.

January 2015 pruning

This winter, I made another pruning decision. There was an oddly placed lower branch that I allowed to grow for the last two years unfettered. You can see it’s tiny version in the image above. I wanted it to be both a clone for the backyard as well as leave a nice stump for future tree climbing and a potential tree house.

I wanted to branch cutting for cloning to be about nine feet tall so it would have a long slender trunk in the back and a tall wide canopy for shade. You can learn how to clone these special trees right here:

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Here’s the branch cutting after I followed all the steps listed in the link above. Can you see her on the left side? A tall drink of water.

And she’s already taking root and putting out new growth. I just planted her about a month ago!

But let’s get back to the amazingness of this girl’s growth. I’ve never before had any plant that was as vigorous as this one. I wanted a stately specimen tree for the front of the house that would be the envy of the block. I also wanted a nice shade tree to keep the house cool during the long hot summers here in SoCal. She doesn’t disappoint!

Big mama reaching for the heavens.

Four years ago, she was sitting in a pot thinking it was almost bonsai time. Let’s take a little stroll down memory lane with some progress shots shall we? Yes, we shall.

In the ground in April of 2013.
filling in nicely in November of 2013.
Holy hell explosion of growth in December of 2014!
As she looks today as of March of 2017.

This is only four years and it’s already grown so much! It just blows my mind. The original branch cutting was about five feet long. I know I keep coming back to this tree, but I can’t recommend strongly enough that if you have the growing zone and the means, you need to give this stately tree a try! Mind Your Dirt has provided you with everything you need to successfully do just that! Then you and I can be erythrina caffra buddies and dance naked under her gentle curves and robust canopy. Sensual!

27 Replies to “My Big Ass Lady: Update on the Coastal Coral Tree”

    1. Why thank you! This is my first “giant bonsai” pruning attempt. Next winter I’ll tackle the ramifications above to further bend her to my will. Well-pruned coral trees as adults are the stuff of dreams! Such amazing form.

        1. I was also a sculpture major! As well as a photography major. And then art history. With a smidgen of philosophy. But still, I get what you’re saying. Very similar results between Pruning and training versus manufactured composition and form. Living art takes way more patience and acceptance of perfection deviance.

    1. It’s funny that the main tree I cloned this from was ALL flowers. Every branch and long into the season as well. That’s why I picked that tree. Her clones are not showing as robustly. I’m hoping it’s because they’re young. Eventually, they should be covered in red flowers for a month or two during late winters.

      Those will be good times. good times indeed.

        1. No fragrance that I’ve noticed before. A Utah winter would be tough unless it was in a pot that could be moved or protected. Or maybe a raised bed scenario. And blankies for the winter chill.

  1. On yes. You are beating this tree to death. But, I can’t get enough. It’s so beautiful. And the rate at which it grows it seriously amazing. Well done man. Well done. Clap clap clap. Clap. Clap clap.

        1. I’d do it Hunter S. Thompson style at least. Jesus do I wish he was alive to write about these dark and desperate days of glorified swine posing as blowhard leadership. The Great Fear clutching the hearts of disembodied Americans everywhere as all the good in the world is torched like a tire fire. We’d sit in the ragtop watching it burn all Halloween orange and chimney red while chewing on a human adrenal gland.

  2. Wow, such a splendid tree, I can see why you are smitten! That being said, try to keep her from your sewer lines and driveway, because when you neglect or anger her she will seek her revenge, and it won’t be pretty. For the nuptials, I’d suggest a tiki/luau, you’d both look smashing in grass skirts.

    1. I would never neglect or anger her. Apart from occasionally sawing off a few limbs. Uh oh.

      I was very selective of her location because of the roots. Far from all major areas of concern. Although, there is a fat root heading towards my house! It’s pushed up the lawn a good foot surrounding it.

      These trees don’t get too massive though. Also, when I planted it, I redirected the roots towards the areas I wanted it to go. I’ve been training and shaping this tree since it was a lowly branch.

      And now I want to put a grass skirt on the trunk so thanks for that! Aloha!

  3. Wow! There is a coastal coral near Green Acre restaurant in La Jolla that stopped me in my tracks and forced me to take a bunch of photos. I am such a beginner though, and bringing a cutting to a well established tree like this definitely intimidates me! Thank you for the inspiration – I will be reading through the rest of your posts on this gorgeous baby and maybe I’ll gain the confidence!

    1. Hi Jessica! It does stop you in your tracks when you see a nice specimen. Get’s me all the time and I can spot them a mile away.

      The article I wrote about branch cutting propagation is all you need to read in order to gain that confidence. I had to score the interwebs in order to find the best methods. Before that, I was loosing every cutting I made. Now, I’ve only lost one out of the last five I’ve done.

      I’m also right here if you need me or run into any obstacles. I reply fast to questions, so let me know if you need anything. I also might be grabbing another batch of cuttings soon and can save you one if I do.

  4. I would absolutely love that and am happy to come your way to pick it up and shake your hand! I ordered city mulch as a result of your last blog post, and am clearly a fan because I keep wanting to try everything you write about. Thank you so much for the response and offer to help, I truly appreciate it. My email is if you end up with an extra cutting, and I look forward to talking soon! In the meantime, I’m studying up on my future fiery tree… 🙂

    1. My pleasure completely. And I’m so glad you’re getting something out of Mind Your Dirt! Makes it all worth it for me. And I love sharing with like-minded folk. Are you looking for a taller tree or smaller? I may be able to pull another clipping but the sugars are rising fast!

      1. Yours is one of the few blogs that I save so that I can take a moment to really enjoy it!

        Maybe a smallish tree, I have a number larger trees at my new home so a smaller-medium sized gal would look quite nice!

          1. Aw shucks, you make it easy, your info is not just practical but passionate and hilarious too!

            Thank you so very much, I can’t wait!

  5. hi James. I’ve been following the progress of your first clone with great interest ever since I planted a few seeds from my neighbours magnificent specimen. this tree has a trunk about 2 metres in diameter and must be at least twice the height of their house.
    at last a passing truck knocked off a branch suitable for a clone so am following your detailed instructions in the hope of similar results.
    just one thing worries me; that the new growth is only at the tip of the rather long branches with no new growth lower down.?
    or is thus likely to change with time?

    thanks for the great posts on Coral tree propogation! According to my search there is nothing like it anywhere on the net!

    1. Hello Jo Scott. It is really hard to find info on this species online, which is why I’ve been trying to add as much as I can.

      You have two options for your situation. You can plant it as is and hope for some lower growth, which you will get. Or you can cut the bottom of the branch to make it a shorter and more natural shape.

      I just so happen to have both cases on my property. I wanted a taller canopy in the back so I cut off a ten foot branch. That way I’d get shade that was way overhead much faster than waiting for a shorter tree to grow. It is working well. And I have gotten lower branches in the first year, but I cut them off as it wasn’t part of my design. I don’t think it would look natural if I let them grow and I need to be able to get around the trunk as there are paths close to the base.

      The tree in the front of the house (and the one featured here) was only about four feet tall as a branch when I planted it. And now it is rather shapely and lovely as a result. I’d recommend that you take a little off the base and have a lower natural spread of branching. This is how the tree should be shaped. You could always use the cut off portion as another tree if you like.

  6. Greetings from summer time in New Zealand. Great to read of your “love affair “with Erythrinas. I too have a few different ones planted in my lsnd, including Caffra, which here tends to be quite a bit like orange rather than red. I knew a guy Dick Wills from Brisbane Australia, who had nearly every Erythrina from all over the world, i visted him and could have spent days with him, he really knew his stuff. Thanks for your site, all the best for 2023, regards Graeme.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! Always a pleasure to touch base with like-minded coral fans! My lady is looking stately these years later. And she’s got a few clones growing in the back yard as well.

      It’s now very close to pruning time for all of them here in the San Diego “winter”. If I miss a year, I risk damage from the weight again. Can’t have that. Nearly lost her in a big storm a while back from skipping a year!

      I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand! One day I will. Such a beautiful place! Cheers and happy new year to you and yours!

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