José Zapata Camacho our gardener has, in recent years, worked tirelessly bringing Cantueso’s much admired gardens up-to-date. He has replanted many flower beds and at the same time covered them with matting and gravel to minimise water evaporation. The harsh looking gravel is soon lost below the abundant flowers which are selected to give colour and groundcover throughout the year. He is a very experienced plantsman and chooses carefully, varieties that he knows will flourish under the wide ranging temperature and wind conditions that we experience at Cantueso. He is introducing lots of interesting and rarely seen plants.
Erythrina caffra: Many of the plants are grown from seed and one of the latest is the Erythrina Caffra, the coast coral tree or African coral tree. It is a tree native to southeastern Africa, and often cultivated in other countries with warm climates, it is also the official tree of Los Angeles, California.
As can be seen in our photos it is curently a very small plant and the thorns on the stem are there to prevent annimals eating the growing specimens. Once grown however it has flowers of various shades of red and crimson with equally colourful seed pods.
In South Africa, Erythrina Caffra is seen as a royal tree: it is a much respected and admired in the Zulu culture and is believed to have magical properties. Specimens have been planted on the graves of many Zulu chiefs and in parts of the Eastern Cape, local inhabitants will not burn the wood for fear of attracting lightning.
The African women of South Africa make the highly decorative seeds of Erythrina caffra into necklaces. Children also love collecting them where they are known as lucky beans. All coral trees produce a poison with a paralysing action, which is used medicinally to relax the muscles in treating nervous diseases. The seeds of all erythrinas are said to be poisonous, and the leaves of Erythrina Caffra are known to have poisoned cattle. The bark of E. caffra is used topically to treat sores, wounds, abscesses and arthritis. Open wounds may be treated with powdered, burnt bark; infusions of the leaves are used as eardrops for earache; and decoctions of the roots are used for sprains. The Vhavenda use the bark for toothache. Erythrina alkaloids are known to be highly toxic, but the traditional uses strongly suggest antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects
They sound like a gowing medical kit. We will of course have to wait a few years to see the trees great beauty and although tempting, are unlikely to try a medical remedy
There has been lots of interest in this tree and as we have plenty of seeds we will make them freely available to visitors to Cantueso. Just ask!