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Cherokee Bean Lily- Erythrina herbacea

The Cherokee Bean Lily is also known as the Coral Bean Lily and the Cardinal Spear. The Cherokee Bean Lily is considered one of the most outstanding native American landscape plants by some plant botanists. In the Southern U.S. The Cherokee Bean Lily, Erythrina herbacea, produces scarlet-red 3-5 feet flowers in cone shaped clusters that rise on rust colored stems that rapidly lengthen before the foliage appears. The red flower of the Cherokee Bean Lily is brilliant in color and the two inch tubular flowers attract swarms of hummingbird and butterfly feeders towards the sweet nectar. The triangular shaped inflorescence can last 45 days and the individual flowers at the bottom of the flower drop off as they are pollinated, leaving a fresh appearance brilliantly red.


Several flower stalks can arise from the central bulb (rhizome) at once or periodically. In Georgia the flowers begin appearing in early May and can continue into the summer. The flowers of the Cherokee Bean Lily, after being pollinated by a hummingbird or butterfly will develop into a bean pod that opens later in the Summer attached to the stem of the Cherokee Bean plant with a display of shiny red beans that are often taken indoors to use for Winter, dried flower displays. Some reports claim that the Cherokee Bean is poisonous, however, it is well documented that the Cherokee Indian tribes used the bean to treat various stomach problems, and the leaves and roots were also used to treat aliments.


Cherokee tribe superstitions related to the arrowhead, weapon-shape of the Cherokee Bean leaf; and the spear shape of the flower in florescence may have let the Cherokee tribe use as a healing medicinal agent. The Cherokee Bean bulb (rhizome) can grow into a large woody mass the size of a man's head, and the root is quite difficult to dig up from the woodlands to plant in a home garden, but the bulb shows very little transplant shock and is a choice garden treasure, whether recovered from the wild or purchased from a mail order nursery.


The Cherokee Bean Lily is unbelievably adapted to most soil types and light conditions. I have found giant colonies of the Cherokee Bean Lily growing on the highway edge in a fence row in full sunshine between Quitman and Moultrie, GA., where it explodes into a giant display of color every May and June, apparently undaunted by weeds and blackberry plants aggressively arching below the 5 feet scarlet red flower stalks. I have also found the Cherokee Bean Lily flowering in 90% darkness in the dense blackgum flood plains of the Alapaha River in Southern Georgia.


If any plant could be said to show a trait of determination to survive the harshness tribulations of environmental stress, certainly the Cherokee Bean Lily could be considered to be a proven survival champion. In South Florida the Cherokee Bean Lily can grow into a small tree, several feet tall where it is unaffected by the no frost zone of the deep South, but further North the frost would put it into dormancy. The Cherokee Bean Lily, Erythrina herbacea also grows large into trees in South Texas.


By Pat Rick